Philip Lee has survived "the dark year" - a year in which two newly divorced brothers rough it, with no running water or indoor plumbing and contend with a feisty band of squirrels that inhabit their kitchen. Dishes are washed in the rain, coffee is made with a can and a blowtorch, a bucket becomes a make-shift shower, and renovation projects are abandoned almost as soon as they are started.
This first paragraph of the publisher's blurb totally hooked me. Grown brothers, living together again while recovering from painful divorces, contending with feisty squirrels! I was eager to be entertained by their exploits and touched by the brotherly love.
You know how sometimes books start out with a summary of what's been going on, and you're not hooked yet but you keep reading because pretty soon the thing will kick into gear? Bittersweet never kicked into gear for me. It wasn't poorly written. It just lacked some of the things I look for in both fiction and memoir. Dialogue, for example.
Author Philip Lee lets the reader peer into his heart as he moves from married man to divorced man to married-again man. His examination of himself and the institution of marriage makes for an interesting read, but he never invites the reader in off his proverbial front porch. He describes the house (feisty squirrels, water-bucket shower, and all); he talks about his kids, his brother, the women he loves; but the reader never quite steps through the threshold to meet them in person. Which is a shame, because by the middle of the book I had connected with Lee and was really rooting for him. But, should I have cared if he got together with the woman he eventually married? I didn't know her well enough to decide if she was a good-guy or a bad-guy (she was at the root of the downfall of his marriage, after all), and while I was still puzzling over that, he'd already sorted through his feelings, gotten remarried, and was on to the next hurdle.
Philip Lee is a professor of Journalism in New Brunswick and in addition to writing for various newspapers has published two other books--Home Pool: The Fight to Save the Atlantic Salmon, and Frank: The Life and Politics of Frank McKenna. Many were more impressed with his memoir than I was, including all these people.