by Ted Manna
Cocoa Beach, Fla.
January 1, 2013
WHERE DID ALL THE FREE SPIRITS GO?
BRADENTON, Fla., Feb. 5, 2012 -- Being that "You Never Know" is a book about a man who among many other things wins $500 million - $250 million after taxes - in a lottery, I grew impatient as I read until he finally won it.
But my patience was well-rewarded with some of the most involving and touching characters and events I've read in a very long season of exciting but empty spy and financial thrillers and medical mysteries.
It is really not about winning a huge lottery check but winning the long battle for identity and self. The jackpot in this book is love.
While it includes the love of two extraordinary couples, and the friendship of a third that is very close to the principle of agape, or brotherhood as a form of love, it is also about the possibilities of our culture and the American people. It is about healing, not a cure; it is about compassion more than simply caring; it is about competition, regret, renewal and - I have to say it again - love.
Don't go thinking "Love Story." It's not that. The quiet passions at work in this book are played out in deeds performed far from the bedroom, and in fact there are no accounts of sexual encounters at all except in a very muted way. It is a book not only well-suited to adolescents but to adults who yearn to be or have become whole people.
Not too surprisingly, it is written by a woman who herself survived the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center, where she was then employed. The events of 9/11 play a small role in this book, as they do in most American lives, but it is not even for a sentence a story that exploits that tragedy.
What it does exploit is a more simple but just as compelling tragedy: the death of a mother and father, and the devastating injury of a brother, in an auto accident.
It is, in fact, without any invocation of religious beliefs at all, very much a story about being a brother's keeper.
This brother, Simeon, is a very talented cartoonist who suffers extensive brain damage in the wreck of car driven by his brother, Tobias, a young man with great promise whose dreams are cut short by the accident and must be re-imagined as something much more difficult. The injuries suffered by Simeon require his brother's care for decades to come.
The book's slow accretion of detail surrounding this central tragedy is masterful, compelling and elevated in a way that is difficult even for a man of many words like me to explain.
There are secrets to be explained, mysteries to be unraveled, healing to be found - all in their own good time. If it were to be made into a movie that is faithful to the book, it would be one not only unique but extremely memorable.
I was delighted and yet deeply sensitized by the time I finished it. This book brought out of me a deeper understanding of my own life and failures, small losses and smaller triumphs. It made me anxious to give the book to another person, something I typically never do because I am simply too selfish to part with ones I like. It also made me realize I have shelves full of junk novels not half as sincerely meant.
Not since the magnificent fantasy of Jonathan Halperin's "A Winter's Tale" have I been so glad I read a book. I may have finished the last few pages in tears, but I left it at my neighbor's door with hope and joy.