We first meet Fran Simone as a young, single mother with a five-year-old son, "a casualty" of divorce from her ten-year marriage, and a recent doctorate graduate in Chapel Hill, NC. Because it is too painful to see her former husband with the new girlfriend he left her for, Fran seeks a university position away from Chapel Hill and is subsequently hired for a faculty position at West Virginia Tech, in the heart of Appalachia's coal mining country in Stonehill, WV.
Following her move, she forms a friendship with another new employee, Marlene. Fran soon experiences trouble adjusting to her transition so far away from everything familiar in her life and one day asks Marlene if she knows any "decent single males." Marlene tells her about a new law graduate from Austin, Texas who works with her husband at Legal Aid, and they soon connect one evening.
The author tells us, "Psychologists...report that people feel positive or negative within seconds of a first encounter with a stranger. The reaction is visceral, immediate and, most times, permanent." And this is how it begins for Fran and Terry. She is instantly attracted and impressed with him: "...short guy, curly brown hair in need of a cut, kind amber eyes framed with wire-rimmed glasses, small hands, stubby fingers. He looked like a young Richard Dreyfuss without the nervous edge." She describes their first evening, their social sipping of wine, and the appearance of the possibility for a new friendship. Terry has also brought a six-pack of beer with him, and, when they call it a night after conversation until 4 am, she thinks as she throws away the beer cans, "...Boy, that guy drinks a lot of beer."
As they see each other frequently, Terry bonds well with Matt, Fran's son, while his and Fran's relationship grows in that wonderful initial honeymoon stage of a new romance. The thread of alcohol is ever-present but doesn't raise red flags for Fran, then an innocent about the disease of alcoholism. Later, Fran realizes that falling in love with Terry happened much too soon after her breakup with her husband. Yet time soon brings an idyllic European trip, with some concern about a possible alcohol problem, yet not enough to derail their sweet, quiet marriage one sunny afternoon in Charleston.
Fran Simone has written an intimate, deeply honest, and absorbing memoir that clearly shows the four stages of alcoholism through the years of her marriage to Terry. When she begins writing their story and the narrative starts to take shape, she finds "the courage to admit my faults, face my fears, and forgive my husband and myself." Her honesty is compelling. I particularly like the way the author organizes her story, dividing the book into four parts, each opening with an epigraph of the disease stage. Part 1, for example, opens with "The addict has a 'wow' experience and begins to form a relationship with the drug. Family members may observe subtle changes in personality, and a formidable barrier to communication appears: denial." I leave the rest for you to read.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in a very well told narrative that intimately shares the lives of two very human people ensnared in the full throes of the disease of alcoholism.
Fran Simone, Ph.D., is a recently retired professor emeritus from the graduate college of Marshall University in South Charleston, West Virginia. Her essays have appeared in The Voice and The Quarterly of the National Writing Project, the Charleston Gazette, Writers Digest, and The Forum. Visit her blog.
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