Book Review: Kayak Morning: Reflections on Love, Grief, and Small Boats, by Roger Rosenblatt

Kayak MorningKayak Morning: Reflections on Love, Grief, and Small Boats
by Roger Rosenblatt
Ecco, an imprint of Harper Collins
2012
146 pages

Anyone who has ever deeply mourned someone knows that the process is not linear.

Not even close.

Instead, grief is fragmented, choppy, unmoored from ourselves. In that sense, the image of a solitary man in a boat with only his thoughts and memories to keep him company is a fitting one as a backdrop for this book. 

Kayaking is more than metaphor in Kayak Morning; for Roger Rosenblatt, it becomes an outlet for him to channel his grief over the loss of his 38 year old daughter Amy who died following an undiagnosed coronary anomaly.  (Mr. Rosenblatt, an accomplished author, wrote the memoir Making Toast – which I have not read – about how he and his wife Ginny helped care for their three young grandchildren after Amy’s passing.)

In Kayak Morning, one seeming-random thought drifts into another and then another – often after just a phrase or two. Literary and philosophical references are interspersed with conversations between Roger and his therapist which are woven in with family memories. There are a lot of tangents; the fragmented structure of the book gives the reader the feeling of not being able to follow the conversation. This initially seems jarring – even annoying and irksome at times – and this seems to be exactly Mr. Rosenblatt’s point. Because this is what profound, deep grief does: it assaults you with everything its got, with no courtesy for your emotional state or what’s happening in your life at the moment. It demands to be heard, to be present and accounted. For it to be dealt with.

Readers who prefer their narratives straightforward, chronological, and sequential probably will not enjoy Kayak Morning. I’m not sure how much comfort this book would offer to someone deep in grief. Perhaps that would vary from person to person.

What does come across in these pages – and what may be of solace to others – is the overall sadness that Mr. Rosenblatt rightfully expresses. (Kayak Morning reminds me of Slamming Open the Door, by Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno and Elegy, by Mary Jo Bang). I think knowing that someone else has also experienced the depths of depression or grief or whatever we may be experiencing can be a comfort for some. 

It is hard to criticize this book because, as Mr. Rosenblatt reminds us, it is better to “be kind, for everyone you meet is carrying a great burden.” (often attributed to Plato).

I hope the writing of Kayak Morning eased some of his.