As published in Bookreporter.com:
In “Me for You” by Lolly Winston, there is no lead-in to the death of Rudy Knowles’ wife. The first sentence acts as both a hook and a warning — this book is about death and loss. “Like a fool, Rudy spoke to his wife Bethany for probably ten minutes before he realized she was dead.” The reader then is taken through the next horrifying time when Rudy realizes that she is dead, calls 911, tries to revive her, and fails.
Later, Rudy feels terrible guilt. Guilt that he didn’t do more before Bethany had the heart attack. She had gone to the doctor the previous afternoon complaining of chest pain, but had been sent home with a diagnosis of “gas.” Rudy blames himself for not taking her to the ER, making sure they checked her into the hospital. He berates himself for everything, and because their marriage was so perfect, he finds it difficult to find his bearings without her.
The story then leaps forward eleven months. Rudy is still working his part-time job at Nordstrom as a pianist. He had been laid off his full-time job and worked as a pianist for years there. He usually enjoyed playing music and entertaining others, even though some of the shoppers were annoying. Many appreciated his music and stopped to chat with him. Now, though, after his loss, Rudy is not doing well.
Here the narrative alternates between Rudy and his co-worker Sasha’s points of view. Sasha also works at Nordstrom. She and Rudy had been acquaintances, chatting at times, smiling at each other. Now, though, in spite of his grief over Bethany, Rudy finds himself thinking more and more about Sasha. At the same time, the reader learns about Sasha, who immigrated to America from Hungary with her husband and daughter. Sasha and her husband are separated, and her daughter died years ago.
Interestingly, the author also includes a few chapters, still in third person narrative, from Bethany’s point of view. Winston does a lovely job creating the narrative from Rudy’s point of view. His actions, his feelings, even his dialogue become increasingly chaotic and unraveled. It’s evident that Rudy is falling apart.
At the same time, the reader is getting to know Sasha, CeCe, Rudy and Bethany’s daughter, and even Bethany herself. CeCe is going through a difficult time as well, and the reader not only meets her as Rudy’s caring daughter, but also as a mother, and — through Bethany and Rudy’s musings about the past — as a child growing up. CeCe is a wonderful daughter, and she finally realizes that her father needs help. She convinces him to be admitted into a hospital to receive treatment for his depression.
Around one-third of the story takes place in the medical psych ward at Stanford. Winston creates a fabulous setting there with caring nurses and doctors, and patients who are not “crazy” but rather people just like our neighbors, our parents, our children, who just have run into a tough time and need a bit of help to regain their equanimity.
Rudy’s disjointed narrative continues as they work on getting his medications right. He jumps from thought to thought, his dialogue is described as Tourette’s-like, and his thoughts race from idea to person to anger to grief. A beautiful scene is when his psychiatrist explains grief to Rudy. He tells him that grief is a chronic condition and says, “Because if you accept grief as something you will likely always carry with you, it is less shocking when it rears its head.” He compares grief to rain. One may not like rain, but if we accept that every so often it’s just going to rain and we need to deal with it, it becomes a bit easier to bear.
In this story, many of the characters are suffering from their own personal loss. A takeaway is that everyone grieves something at some point in life, and grief is better borne when shared with loved ones. Winston also makes the very real point that while there may be new loves and relationships in people’s lives, that doesn’t make the grief, or the past love, disappear.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by the publisher, Gallery Books, for review purposes.