Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Book Review: 'Banged-Up Heart' by Shirley Melis

New Mexico author Shirley Melis earned her degree from Vassar and entered the world of writing as business writer, travel writer, and newspaper columnist, traveling the world interviewing everyone from busboys to heads of international organizations. With that valuable experience behind her she began a career in public relations in Washington, D.C. BANGED-UP HEART is her first published book/memoir –a book Shirley describes as ‘delving deeply into her own personal story of finding love late, losing it early, and discovering the strength to choose to love again - the kind of wild trust that can grow in the heart of an ordinary woman thrust into circumstances that few others must face.

A memoir that describes tragedy and be a tough read, especially if the author dwells on the side of grief and discordance that accompanies the loss of a loved one – not once but twice. The difference in Shirley’s Melis’ manner of communicating a life twice torn is her ultimate view of hope and the possibilities of growing from a tragedy to into a person emotionally supple to the possibilities of moving on.

Shirley opens her story with the first loss in the past shared with friends on holiday – ‘Dick, Kerry, and I were close friends, but I’d never spent Christmas with them until after Joe died. They knew me well; they had known and liked Joe. Over the past two years, they had watched me attempt to make a life for myself without him. I was still in a limbo I didn’t understand, somewhere between my old life and a new one that I could not quite imagine. I would catch myself going through the motions, trying to take care of things as Joe had. I knew I was not succeeding. Would I ever feel more than half-alive? Lately, I had been trying to picture myself in a life that would engage my heart as well as my mind.’ And it is this ‘in-touch’ manner of communication that makes this story accessible and relatable.

The synopsis Shirley provides distills the content of this book very well – ‘Banged-Up Heart’ is an intimate and clear-eyed account of finding love late and losing it early—and of the strength it takes to fall madly in love a second time, be forced to relinquish that love too soon, and yet choose to love again. When her husband of thirty years dies suddenly, Shirley Melis is convinced she will never find another man like Joe. Then she meets John, a younger man who tells her during their first conversation that he has lived for many years with a rare but manageable cancer. She is swept off her feet in a whirlwind courtship, and within months, made brave by the early death of a friend's husband, she asks him to marry her! What follows is a yearlong odyssey of travel and a growing erotic and creative partnership—until a mysterious bump on John's forehead proves to be one of several tumors in his brain and spine. The nine months that follow are filled with a life-threatening infection, three brain surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy. Two years and one week after their wedding, John dies at the age of fifty-nine. More than just a love story or a memoir of mourning, Banged-Up Heart comes down solidly on the side of life. It takes you deep inside an ordinary woman, her deeply felt grief butting up against her desire for more than companionship: passion, sexual fulfillment, and self-realization. It bears eloquent witness to the wild trust it takes to fall madly in love and risk profound loss—a second time. Ultimately, it shows that it is possible to dance with a banged-up heart.’

It would be difficult to match that summary, but the novel, written so well as to enter its own level of literary excellence, communicates so humanely that losses, the need for moving on, the rush of lust and passion, and the coping that Shirley Melis makes credible. Grady Harp, April 17

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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