The Present Giver: A Memoir
by Bar Scott

ALM Books, 2011. ISBN 978-0-615-44069-9.
Reviewed by Susan J. Tweit
Posted on 03/21/2012

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Life Lessons; Nonfiction: Relationships

"I've asked myself over and over again why I should write this book," Bar Scott writes at the beginning of The Present Giver, a memoir, "and the answer is always the same: all great love stories should be told and this is the best one I know."

Having asked the most important question a memoir-writer must wrestle with ("Why bother?"), Scott answers it by giving herself a huge assignment to accomplish in The Present Giver: entice readers into the love story, and show them its greatness in a way so compelling they won't question why the story needed to be written. No pressure there.

As if that wasn't a big enough challenge, in the previous paragraph she has already revealed the end of the story:

"As it turned out, Forrest died on a Sunday.... It was February 9th, 2002 at 2:13 in the afternoon. He was three-and-a-half years old. If this were a novel, I would be reluctant to disclose that the central character dies in the end. But this is not a novel, and Forrest's death was not the end."

Perhaps not, but Scott is Forrest's mother. Which means, as the author of The Present Giver she assumes the additional challenge of writing an authentic love story about her own child's life while living with his death.

I won't be giving away the end of the story by saying she is successful on all counts. The Present Giver is a heart-wrenching and heart-opening story. It helps that it's told by a mother who happens to also be an award-winning songwriter, and thus has a good deal of practice in distilling the essence of any story into lyrics. It also helps that the love Scott discovers in the story is in part her own unquenchable love for life, even after her child's life is taken. That is Forrest's gift.

The Present Giver is worth reading on many levels. For one, it IS a great love story, told with a sense of humor, a tender heart, and an appreciation for the truths that we adults have forgotten, or lost the ability to see, and which young children can sometimes articulate so clearly, as in this passage:

"Because of a little mix-up with his pronouns, Forrest used to say 'Carry you?' when he wanted me to pick him up. I'd lean over and say, 'I'd love to, Forrest,' then scoop him up and rest him on my hip. These days I enjoy the thought that his pronoun was exactly right and that he was making an offer rather than a request."

That passage illustrates another reason this slender book is worth reading: The passage is an entire chapter, a story told in three sentences, with a beginning, ending, and a narrative arc where one of the main characters learns and grows. Knowing the ending does not in any way make this story less worth the read: it's the journey and how Scott tells it that is so illuminating.

That's the magic of a memoir written by a singer-songwriter, or at least this particular singer-songwriter. Scott's story-chapters are sometimes as short as briefest lyrics, but they are complete and satisfying nonetheless. In fact, the whole book could be seen as a collection of songs, an extended-play album tracing the circles and cycles of one short, but very wonderful and well-lived life.

Read an excerpt from this book.

Singer-songwriter Bar Scott has released nine CDs, including six of her original material, and been an ASCAP special awards winner for eleven consecutive years. Her CD "Parachute" was named in the Top 5 CDs of the year for 2007 by American Songwriter, and also was named in WXPN radio Philadelphia's Top 5 CDs. She has performed at music festivals and venues across the Northeast, and has been writer-in-residence at SUNY Ulster and other schools. Scott began writing The Present Giver after her young son Forrest died of an aggressive form of pediatric liver cancer. Visit her website.

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