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Book Review: Hesitation Wounds by Amy Koppelman

I literally just finished reading Hesitation Wounds by Amy Koppelman. I cried several times beginning in the second part of the book. **This contains plot points and spoilers.**

I’ve been reading it for about two weeks now, but Christmas was in the middle of those weeks so it sat on my bureau for much of that time. I’ve been distancing myself from darker stories because of my personal life (not directly related to the topics the book deals with, but have been wanting to keep it light and funny as of late). But I knew I was committed to reading it…and so it served as a portal through some of those feelings.

The title Hesitation Wounds sets the stage for a visceral walk through a life filled with the things we all have to eventually deal with: love, loss, family, grieving and our own limitations.

This is what I know: The people who love you leave. But you already know that. We all thin we know. Yet somehow . . . at some point we are without. And it is like walking through life without the sky. Flight risk endangers those on land. Still I look for you. Absorbing impact in well-soled shoes. A sidewalk with bicyclists. Don’t step on the crack and so on. Betrayal—and that’s ultimately what we’re talking about here, don’t kid yourself—comes in many forms. Yours happens to be unadorned. Like how concrete when wept upon becomes slippery (Koppelman, 11).

Amy’s writing really made me focus on what the hell I was reading. It was not an “easy read” on any front: her style and the topic were both challenging. Thanks for pushing me, Amy.  If you’re looking for a light and easy read, I would look elsewhere.

Death, mental health, control, love, abandonment, surrender. These were the words that kept floating around in the background of my mind as I flipped through the pages.

Jumping back and forth through Dr. Susanna Seligers childhood, adolescence, young adulthood and present day…we witness the unraveling and recreation of a woman who is aware of her own defense mechanisms but who is, at times, unable to (or unwilling to) walk away from these defense mechanisms to live a thriving, rich life.

Susa (her nickname) possibly hides from her own wounds by doctoring her clinically depressed and treatment resistant patients.  As Susa steps away from her practice, she seems to finally emerge into her own life, when problems in her romantic relationship become too obvious to ignore.

Suza dances between the idea of tragic experiences happening to her and, later, wondering if she had always known the tragedy was coming upon her whilst she willinginly denies the signs.

She grapples with her role in these tragedies. I would imagine anyone who has had to deal with loss spends time in this mental loop.

Could she have done more?

Did she miss something?

But let’s say instead of rolling my eyes, I had brought you tea, tucked you beneath the quilt, waited at the end of your bed while you slept. If I were to have understood, have recognized what you were asking. If, instead of calling you crazy I said I was willing to go with you? Could I have? Because I would have, you know. I would have done anything– if I had understood, if I knew you were testing me– I would have climbed into that sailboat, Daniel I would have met you there (101).

Here I sense her regret. Of not paying closer attention. Of not reading between the lines. Something, the reader learns she will not allow herself to do in future relationships as she moves past this event.

She was a virgin to the sudden and jarring experience of this loss. [On the last page, we will come to learn that, upon reflection, she is able to see things that she could not have expected herself to see in real time. An act of self-forgiveness.]

…no matter how infinitesimally small it is, there is a measure of time between when something happens and when you realize it happened. What I didn’t understand until after everything* happened is that your light had already been stolen. I just didn’t realize it was gone (187).

*Please see below, for what I believe, is her reference to “everything.”

But this experience (the tragedy that she spends the book grappling with, not her later awareness of her own innocence) was her awakening into a reality in which she would become so attentive of what makes other people tick, that she couldn’t possibly miss the signs of abandonment nearing towards her.

I can’t seem to find the next passage that I’m recalling, but Suza later questions whether or not she had known of Evan’s (her boyfriend) transgressions, and whether or not she turned a blind eye because she enjoyed the excitement it created. A literal example of not being a virgin to the sins of others. When I find the passage, I promise to add it in, for reference.

While the topic of abandonment seems obvious and possibly even played out (our society obnoxiously pushes for seeming caricatures of boring, old, average human-ness) Amy is able to address the dignity of living and dying with all of the tedious bumps and bruises you get in between, devoid of any angle or souped-up version of what this means.

I am, personally, more interested in the mundanities of life than the perfected and unrealistic versions of life we see portrayed through Social Media, reality tv, gossip rags and the news.

What I love about the book is Suza’s equal parts reluctance and commitment to push past her own limitations. It is such a clear theme and one that I hope people can relate to. When we remove the distractions, clutter and the garbage (toxic relationships, soul-sucking jobs, bad habits), we still have those pesky inner challenges that we must overcome if we decide to engage fully in our own lives.

After Suza has gone on her own Odyssey to become a mother and reconnect with her first love (major paraphrase here), we find her at the grave of her deceased brother (original tragedy she spent the book overcoming), snow falling around her and her daughter. When her daughter beckons her to catch a snowflake on her tongue, we hear Suza internally fumbling to decide whether or not she should or could stick her tongue out catch a snowflake.

But look at us. Mother and daughter. Arms locked. Tongues outstretched. Capturing magic.

Everything* (187).

This final moment captures the rich inner life that she, and many women, lead. While an onlooker might walk by and see a mother and daughter enjoying the snow and paying respects to a loved one, what is bubbling beneath the surface is Suza’s own choice to live or die. Sometimes hesitations wounds are not visible to the naked eye.

She chose to live.

My final review of Hesitation Wounds is a 5 out of 5 stars. I just made this rating system up completely on the fly. The reason I have given it a perfect score is because it challenged me as a reader and as a person. It was the perfect length. And it helped me to push through some challenging topics.

I highly recommend this book. You can buy it here.

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