I am taking a 4-day hiatus from my blog, going camping with a special friend, and will be away from computer and from news of the outside world from Saturday, July 2nd through Tuesday, July 5th. I have scheduled a few of my “oldies but goodies” and will see you all when i return to the real world (maybe?) on Wednesday, July 6th. Please don’t go away … I shall return, rested and happy and ready to start ranting once again! This book review, originally posted in 2013, was published in 4 separate venues and was without a doubt the MOST controversial book review I have ever written! I still sometimes receive hate mail and comments on Amazon and Goodreads about this review!
I’ll See You Again, by Jackie Hance
This is the book that should never have been published. It needed to be written, as I’m sure the writing was a catharsis of sorts to Ms. Hance, but it should never have been published and sold to the general public. Barbara Walters told Ms. Hance she found the book “uplifting”. Ms. Walters is kinder than I am; I found it almost anything but uplifting. Ms. Hance has faced the greatest nightmare that any parent can ever face and my heart goes out to her. I cannot imagine the pain, the devastation she feels every day as she struggles to get through the days of her life without her children. I am sympathetic to her, however this is a book review and as such must honestly appraise the value of the book in question and I find very little to love in this book.
I bought the book after seeing Ms. Hance as a guest on The View a few weeks prior and remembering the Tragedy on the Taconic, as it came to be called almost four years ago, I recalled that when the media circus finally died down, there were a number of unanswered questions left on the table. I was anticipating that Ms. Hance’s book would seek to provide answers to some of those questions. A third of the way into the book, I realized that the only question that was being addressed was “Why me, God?” and, finding little or no value in my reading I set the book aside with no intention of going back to it. However, two weeks later I decided that this was a review I wanted to write and my conscience would not let me write the review without finishing the book, so I did pick it back up.
The root of the story, for those who do not know or do not remember, is that on Sunday, July 26, 2009, Ms. Hance’s sister-in-law, Diane Schuler, was driving with the three Hance daughters and her own two children back to New York from a weekend camping trip when she entered the Taconic freeway going the wrong way. She drove nearly two miles at a speed of 85 miles per hour, despite numerous other drivers swerving, flashing their lights, and motioning out car windows to get her attention, until crashing head on with another vehicle, killing eight of the nine people in both vehicles. It was soon determined that Ms. Schuler was extremely intoxicated, with a blood-alcohol level more than twice the legal limit, undigested vodka still in her system, and evidence that she had also been under the influence of illegal drugs (marijuana). Those are the undisputable facts. The investigation into how and why this could have happened has turned up more half-truths, finger-pointing, and blatant lies than it has additional facts. There are numerous lawsuits in the courts today as a result of this accident, a few perhaps legitimate, a few based on more lies and attempts to shift blame and responsibility. It is not my intent to re-hash this pathetic investigation, and I’ll See You Again will not address the real issues at all. If you are interested in the most detailed account, a better choice to read is The Taconic Tragedy: A Son’s Search for the Truth, by Jeanne Bastardi, the wife of a man whose father and brother died in the vehicle Ms. Schuler crashed into.
It is difficult to fairly and honestly review this book. My criteria for judging non-fiction is twofold: is the story worth the telling, and is it written in such a way as to reflect the value of the story. In the case of I’ll See You Again, there is definitely a story worth telling, however Ms. Hance told only a small part of the story and not one that can hold the reader’s interest for an entire 288 pages. It is difficult to review the story without coming across as unsympathetic, however a little self-pity goes a long way and Ms. Hance indulges in nearly 288 pages of it. She feels her own grief deeply and understandably, however throughout she is blind to the grief of anybody else, including her husband and the girls’ grandparents, neighbors, friends and their children. She is constantly angry at her husband, denying him the right to grieve. That they are still together may well qualify Warren Hance for sainthood! To her credit, she did try psychiatric help, but as is typical was treated with drugs instead of genuine grief counseling. And she did try talking to clergy, but was given the same platitudes we all hear rather than any real comfort. In situations like this, truly there are no words that can give actual comfort. The one thing that nobody suggested and it seems to me would have been the first line of attack against the depression that quickly took over her life was to get a job. Hard work and physical activity are really the only cures for depression, whether real or imagined, but rather than consider this, she chose to either spend her days in bed crying (which we are told over and over, ad nauseum) or go shopping and spend money. Her friends, who also qualify for sainthood, dedicated large portions of their lives to being there for Ms. Hance, including changing their lives drastically. One friend cancelled her annual Halloween party in 2009, as she felt it would be too hard for Jackie, but then in 2010 she resumed the party for the sake of her own children, and Jackie was furious, saying “How could Jeannine do this to me?” Really? This is a fully mature adult, nearly a year and a half after the accident, expecting her friends to put their own lives on hold indefinitely. When the story isn’t about how miserable she is and how unfair life has been to her, it is about what a great mother she was. Understandably, I began to not like Jackie Hance very much. The last quarter of the book sees some improvement in her attitude, presumably due to the arrival of a new baby, and she began to be able to see the grief that Warren and others in the family had suffered. We can only hope that the new baby is given the opportunity to grow and thrive in her own patch of light rather than in the shadows of her dead sisters. By the end of the book I was beginning to like Ms. Hance marginally better, but I still believe 288 pages of self-pity does not make for a good read.
In addition to the issue of excessive self-pity, I am disappointed in this book because the whole issue of the crash and its’ causes has been ignored except for a few brief mentions where Ms. Hance declares nobody had any indication that the sister-in-law, Diane, was an alcoholic and toward the end she graciously tells Diane at the gravesite that she forgives her. There are several lawsuits still pending, so I imagine it was not possible to delve too deeply into facts surrounding Diane’s drug and alcohol addiction, but I cannot accept the denial of the entire family that nobody knew she even drank. Perhaps one day when the lawsuits are settled, somebody will be able to write an honest book about the facts and details surrounding the accident.
I can only justify a one-star rating, as I still believe it should have been written as a journal for Ms. Hance’s personal benefit, and not a published book at nearly $30. Again, my heart goes out to Ms. Hance, but I am writing a book review, not holding a grief counseling session. I cannot in good conscience recommend this book.