This week I read Beauty in the Broken Places by Allison Pataki. It is the story of how Pataki’s husband Dave suffers a stroke in mid-air as they are flying to Hawaii during their “babymoon” when she was five months pregnant. Not that anyone ever expects a stroke, but he is only 30 and healthy, so this medical emergency is completely unforeseen.
In the early moments when she still does not know what is happening, Pataki tries to keep herself calm to protect her unborn baby. As time goes on and she sees how Dave’s mind has changed she wonders if her daughter will ever know her husband as she has.
Dave has issues with memory, acts inappropriate at times, and goes through physical therapy to regain his abilities. The book alternates between his recovery, letters she is writing to him to help him remember what he will not, and chapters that show how they met, fell in love, and came to the moment on the plane.
I am always interested to see how someone facing a drastic change in a loved one through illness responds. Pataki discusses how she used her faith to get through the experience and shows us some low points of fear and despair, but I felt as if she kept us at arm’s length.
Instead of the long narrative about the couple’s love story, I wanted to see how they struggled to regain what was lost. When she gives birth, her husband has recovered enough to take part but still has a long road of recovery ahead of him. His brain is more like an adolescent like a teen.
“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”
Pataki discusses how he slept most of the day and wanted to do nothing but watch television at a time when his brain needed more stimulation. She lets us know that he says she is nagging him, yet we don’t see any scenes of these interactions or dialogue of this on the page.
I also wondered what it was like to bring a daughter home and have someone so unreliable in the house. She speaks about how she did all the work and of her exhaustion and resulting depression, but I imagine there might have been fear when her husband interacted with the baby or awkwardness between the couple, but the detail was not there.
From the timeline, it seems as if the stroke, writing, and publishing of the book occurred within the last few years. At the end of the book, Dave writes a letter thanking Allison and others for their support but acknowledges there is still work to be done. I wonder what type of book it might have been if it had been written in a few years when the full story could be told.
A version of this post was previously published on CatherineLanser and is republished here with permission from the author.
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