Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Open Season on the Widow(er): More about Debbie Macomber’s “Hannah’s List”

with 3 comments

Before I start into today’s blog, I want to first point you to the book review I just did at Shiny Book Review:

I had a hard time containing my rage and frustration after reading Hannah’s List.  There are so very many things wrong with this book — and all of them start with the premise: why would a man who’s grieving get a letter from his dead wife (written as she lay dying) asking him to remarry forthwith because he should have children — as if children are owed to him in her view — and then give a list of three disparate women who, in Hannah’s view, would make her husband Michael an excellent second wife?

Most if not all of you know I am a widow, and thus, Michael the doctor’s plight is not unknown to me.  Anniversaries are hard — the first one in particular, but they never get any easier, and grief has its own cycle — one that doesn’t obey any time clocks — that the widow or widower must endure.

Doctor Michael Everett, the hero of Hannah’s List, has been grieving for one year — apparently author Macomber thought this was just much too long for a vibrant man in his late-thirties — and we’re supposed to believe that Hannah, his wife, is a selfless, caring, giving saint for finding three women she thinks will appeal to her husband to succeed her after her death.

Excuse me, but when did this woman die and become God(dess)?  I mean, isn’t it up to Michael — the widower — to decide when or even if to date again?  And certainly, if he had the sense to pick Hannah in the first place and she was so damned good for him, why wouldn’t Hannah realize that he still has that good common sense that led him to her in the first place, so he’s still capable of finding another good woman by himself?  And that he doesn’t need to be led by the hand in order to find someone else?

Some of the feelings Michael the widower had in this book didn’t ring true to me, either.  From page 318:

How well she knew me, how well she’d known how I’d react once she left this world.  But for the first time since I’d lost her, I felt not only alive, but — to my complete surprise — happy.  I saw now that her letter had freed me; it’d given me permission to live.  The letter, with her list, was a testament of her love.

Once again, we have the saintly Hannah, and the barely-thinking, barely-able-to-reason Michael — who is of all things a doctor and should understand at bare minimum what the grief cycle is all about — and I just don’t buy it.

Either this man had the sense he was born with to pick wisely once, so he can pick wisely a second time without being led by the hand, or he didn’t — but if he didn’t, he needs a lot more help than the manipulative, meddling Hannah could ever possibly give him.

There are not words for how much I profoundly disliked and despised this book, and I hadn’t expected to feel this way as I have enjoyed just about every other book Debbie Macomber has ever written — most especially the ones featuring scatterbrained angels Shirley, Goodness and Mercy.  Those are funny, heartwarming and even healing books that make me laugh and think.

But all Hannah’s List made me think was this: open season on the widow(er).  Because apparently Ms. Macomber does not believe a widow, or widower, can think for him or herself and must be led, kicking and screaming, back into life by the first available man (or woman, or alien, or whatever) who’s willing to take an interest before it’s too late.


Written by Barb Caffrey

October 3, 2010 at 6:28 am

3 Responses

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  1. Jason Cordova kindly added in the three covers, as he knows I’m Web-illiterate and he, fortunately, isn’t, to the three reviews I did last evening/this morning. Just wanted to state my appreciation for that. 🙂

    He also Tweeted about all three, but said about this book in particular something like: “Barb reviews ‘Hannah’s List.’ Reviews in the sense of taking a pickaxe to it. Check it out!” I also appreciate this and his other Tweets for the other two far superior books I reviewed last night, “Queen Isabella” (history) and “One Nation Under Dog” (contemporary American satire/current events).

    I just said something very similar at Shiny Book Review that I’m going to say here also: very, very few books out there are kind to widows and widowers. Young widowers in particular; this guy, Michael Everett, the hero of Macomber’s book, is in his late-thirties as this book starts. (Mid-thirties at absolute best, but really late in the mid-thirties. 36, maybe 37.) And because he’s so young, he’s getting told by those around him (when they break into his reserve, that is) that he needs to get back out into the world, that Hannah wouldn’t want him to be so unhappy, and that really, it was in Hannah’s best interest to be happy in Heaven and not have to worry about Michael so much.

    I can only shake my head at this, because it’s patently ridiculous to assume anyone else’s actions or feelings, dead or not. I have to do that, sometimes, because I knew my late husband Michael (a far superior man to Michael Everett, hero of Ms. Macomber’s book, partly because my husband had some flaws — all people, in books or out of them, _have flaws_) and I’m doing my best to complete his work as if it were my very own. And while I miss being around my husband — very, very much so — and I think about him often, I have to remind myself that any thoughts I have about what he might or might’nt say are simply that — thoughts. I won’t know for sure if I’m right or not until I see him again in eternity.

    That being said, it’s a truism that if you were truly loved — and trust me, I was — your spouse does not want you to be unhappy after he dies. But “Hannah’s List” goes a whole lot further than that — all I can say is, if my husband had done anything like this to _me_, I’d be swearing at the top of my lungs and be mad as Hell at him, because that would show how little he trusted me to make up my *own* mind regarding *my* grief process. My view there is simple; if he had been in this situation (I’m really glad he’s not!), then it’d be up to him what to do, but because it’s _me_, he doesn’t really get a vote.

    And that’s the way it should be, no matter how long the grieving process takes; the only one who can tell me when to stop grieving is _me_, not my memories of my beloved husband Michael. And to rob a widower, even one in a book, of his own, natural grief cycle is a major mistake. Trust me!

    Barb Caffrey

    October 3, 2010 at 2:21 pm

  2. Good Post!

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    January 25, 2011 at 1:08 pm

  3. […] essays, most notably this one on Lois McMaster Bujold’s GENTLEMAN JOLE AND THE RED QUEEN and this one on Debbie Macomber’s HANNAH’S LIST. But I have even more thoughts on the subject of […]

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