Finding Lily

Finding Lily?

I’ve lost interest. But, it’s astonishing how $4.99 will keep me commited to the end of a book I bought on a Chapters clearance table. Finding Lily, by Richard Clewes, wasn’t intended to be a feel-good cartwheel-inducing book. Readers are immediately thrown into the pile of writhing snakes that fill Clewes head as he attempts to find answers to his wife’s suicide.

Clewes confesses in the introduction that he is “an advertising art director, not a storyteller.” But, he can draw! Instead of drawing conclusions about his wife’s death, he just draws. I was pulled in by the creativity of the book, each chapter has a profound quote, postcard drawing and cancelled stamp (reminiscent of Nick Bantock’s clever Griffin & Sabine trilogy). We start at the beginning, when Clewes decides to fly himself and his wobbly emotions around the world in a quest that is recorded in intriguing visuals. He sketches St.Lucia, Bali and New Zealand with undeniable talent, sending postcards with his line drawings back to his Toronto home. Or, as he learns, “sense of home.”

Finding Lily is non-fiction, so I choose my words delicately. How can I judge someone’s grief and process of digesting it? However, Clewes ruminates and repeats ad nauseum–a hopeful paragraph ends with a downward thought. I’m reminded of the Ziggy comic where Ziggy is standing outside the Optimist Club. To no one in particular he says, “I knew they wouldn’t let me in.”

Certainly, Clewes is entitled to pessimism, but he’s not pessimistic. He just doesn’t allow himself to keep his mind empty for very long. Even when he has the benefit of sugary beaches and turqoise waters to disappear in. His constant thinking and what-if scenarios become draining. I wasn’t expecting a Disneyland and cotton candy story, but, I was hoping that an answer would be found for him sometime before New Zealand.

Clewes tries desperately to absorb his surroundings during his six month sojourn, but his insides prove to be too distracting. We learn of his wife’s manic depression, her extravagant ways with Visa cards and the financial vaccuum that the couple found themselves in. The suffocating struggle for Clewes  is that they were on the verge of divorcing when Lily took her life. However, for all their married years, he believed that love could cure her depression, and he admits to worse– “that I was doing something noble.”

During his travels, conversations become immediately sticky and strained. “Are you married?” For those he does warm too, sometimes “cancer” is the answer. Sometimes he says, “yes,” he is married. He still was, afterall.

Shelagh Rogers said the book was “Remarkable!” David Gilmour (A Perfect Night To Go To China) felt “It doesn’t whine; it doesn’t sing with false hope either. Finding Lily is simply the story of a bad thing that happened to a decent man–and what he did in the aftermath.”

I’m feeling guilty about giving it an unfavourable review as this guy was willing to show his guts and raw emotions to the world. If I had to write about the same gritty content, maybe I would be back and forth like a pinball too. He is discovering and healing as he is writing and drawing, that is evident.

Finding Lily is honest, but the over-analysis of their marriage and financial situation made me feel like I was a fly on the wall in a psychiatrist’s office. Clewes was brave to put his hurts and valiant struggle in print, and maybe the undigestible part  is that no peace is made.

There is no answer in the end, and that’s what readers like. However, we are painfully reminded that “wherever you go, there you are.”

For a chapter excerpt visit:

Finding Lily– A Memoir

By: Richard Clewes

Keyporter Books

192 pages

Categories: On My Bookshelf | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Finding Lily

  1. Ya gots to read to the end of the book to get the meaning of the title. He took the trip, not to find his late wife … he took it to find himself. I don’t see his revelations as repetitive … I see them as heart-wrenching, as a wounded soldier who lost a battle with the Heavy Thing … a battle he sometimes had no idea existed! Everyone has his/her own opinion, of course. But as readers we should remember the book didn’t get written for us, for our entertainment purposes.

  2. Lily wasn’t his late wife’s name, it was Erin. I know Richard, I met his wife. Dealing with pain is individual; when people write about it they don’t follow the usual plot lines and story set-ups like it’s a novel. It’s a stream-of-consciousness type of writing where you let the pain take you where IT wants to go in order to let it out. He chose travel, sketches and ruminations that may seem repetitive to someone expecting a clever story or who hasn’t experienced the suicide of a spouse. I highly recommend reading Neil Peart’s Ghost Rider, his own travelogue of loss after the deaths of his daughter and wife. Perhaps you’ll get a feel for what loss does and how writing about it honestly – not to create a perfectly written book but to assuage the nightmare of pain, guilt, recrimination and confusion.

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