A Story of Love, Death, Grief, and the Afterlife
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Allen’s first book is an alternately intense and funny memoir that will touch a chord for anyone who has experienced the pain of a loved one’s addiction and violent death. Allen decided to remain in Iowa City after graduating from the Iowa Writers Workshop, and it was there that she met Jim Beaman, a wonderfully quirky neighbor who worked construction. For Allen, it was love at first sight; the two began spending most of their free time in long conversations and eventually formed an intimate relationship (which was first consummated outdoors in a thunderstorm, while she was leading a Girl Scout field trip). In love and engaged to be married, Allen closed her eyes to many of Jim’s underlying problems, including his alcohol and cocaine addictions. (Throughout their relationship, he was also dealing cocaine in their idyllic Iowa community.) One afternoon not long after their engagement, Jim shot himself through the head. Shocked by his suicide, Allen began the excruciating process of self-examination, which led her to confront her own denial about how serious his addictions had become. While Allen wisely avoids trendy terminology like “enabler” and “codependency,” she does draw upon key concepts of the recovery movement to pinpoint how she had unwittingly licensed Jim’s addictions. Her own healing process took years and included a stint in a psychiatric ward after she had “blue dreams” and felt she was communicating with a still-addicted Jim through the veil. These contacts (which Allen is still not entirely convinced weren’t real) led to bizarre communications with other, more malevolent spirits, first through “automatic writing” and then in the form of incessant voices in her head. Emerging from this dark period, she concludes that she was “stronger, clearer, [and] happier after my visit to the underworld.” Engrossing but never self-indulgent or sensationalist. Allen’s demons make for a compelling tale. (First printing of 50,000)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-679-45460-8
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1998