On a day like any other, on a rafting trip down Utah's Green River, Stephane Gerson's eight-year-old son, Owen, drowned in a spot known as Disaster Falls. That night, as darkness fell, Stephane huddled in a tent with his wife, Alison, and their older son, Julian, trying to understand what seemed inconceivable. Read more...
On a day like any other, on a rafting trip down Utah's Green River, Stephane Gerson's eight-year-old son, Owen, drowned in a spot known as Disaster Falls. That night, as darkness fell, Stephane huddled in a tent with his wife, Alison, and their older son, Julian, trying to understand what seemed inconceivable. -It's just the three of us now, - Alison said over the sounds of a light rain and, nearby, the rushing river. -We cannot do it alone. We have to stick together.-
Disaster Falls chronicles the aftermath of that day and their shared determination to stay true to Alison's resolution. At the heart of the book is an unflinching portrait of a marriage tested. Husband and wife grieve in radically different ways that threaten to isolate each of them in their post-Owen worlds. (-He feels so far, - Stephane says when Alison shows him a selfie Owen had taken. -He feels so close, - she says.) With beautiful specificity, Stephane shows how they resist that isolation and reconfigure their marriage from within.
As Stephane navigates his grief, the memoir expands to explore how society reacts to the death of a child. He depicts the -good death- of his father, which reveals an altogther different perspective on mortality. He excavates the history of the Green River--rife with hazards not mentioned in the rafting company's brochures. He explores how stories can both memorialize and obscure a person's life--and how they can rescue us.
Disaster Falls is a powerful account of a life cleaved in two--raw, truthful, and unexpectedly consoling.
- ISBN-13: 9781101906699
- ISBN-10: 1101906693
- Publisher: Crown Publishing Group (NY)
- Publish Date: January 2017
- Page Count: 272
- Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 0.79 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-11-14
- Reviewer: Staff
In this wrenching memoir, Gerson, a historian and professor at New York University, grapples with unthinkable loss. He and his eight-year old son, Owen, were on a family rafting trip to Utah when father and son were thrown out of a small duck boat while navigating rapids on the Green River; Owen drowned. As he tries to find relief without dimming memory, Gerson turns to support groups, new routines, literature, history, and mysticism. Only with the death of his father two years later, and his wifes unexpected pregnancy, does Gerson begin to achieve a tentative acceptance of the unacceptable. Gerson writes honestly of his grief and guilt with an analytic distance that doesnt mask his suffering. Chapters narrating the events around Owens death provide a counterpoint to those examining the accidents effects on Gersons marriage, family, community, and his own sense of identity. The experience of 9/11 and a visit with his father to Belaruswhere family members were murdered in the Holocaustallow Gerson to contextualize his personal tragedy within the overwhelming history of human catastrophe. While asserting that one can never recover from the death of a child, Gerson evocatively describes the process of a struggle that allows him to continue living. (Jan.)
Utah's unforgiving rapids
The five stages of grief are a well-known reaction to loss, but Stéphane Gerson added a sixth when his 8-year-old son, Owen, died in a commercial rafting accident on Utah’s Green River: He decided to write about it, “in expiation, in homage, in remembrance.” The resulting book, Disaster Falls, is an excruciating read—and an invaluable emotional resource.
Few of us, fortunately, experience a loss comparable to that of Gerson and his wife, Alison, and surviving son, Julian. But as Gerson makes clear, no one wakes up in the morning anticipating disaster. Seemingly inconsequential decisions can have far-reaching ramifications, sometimes resulting in death. So it was with Owen, who was in a small craft known as a ducky with his father when it flipped.
The decision to take an 8-year-old through Class III rapids can and undoubtedly will be debated by parents who read Disaster Falls, but what of the countless other decisions we make? What constitutes crossing the line when it comes to protecting our children or letting them stretch their world? Or is there not really a line but a kaleidoscope of random, inexplicable occurrences?
Gerson, a cultural historian and professor of French studies at New York University, writes unflinchingly of the accident, its immediate aftermath and its effect on him and his family. If you wonder how couples stay together—or break apart—after a devastating loss, his insights are illuminating. And how should you respond to a family that’s going through such a tragedy? Gerson’s reactions to well-meaning attempts at connection might surprise you.
Not so surprisingly, a legal battle emerges toward the end of the book, bringing with it some of Gerson’s most powerful writing. For the Gersons, as with all families, the journey continues along life’s never-ending river.