Larry G. Straub, |
It is often only after losing a loved one that we consider our own mortality and our opinions of the meaning of death and therefore, life. After recalling the events and emotions surrounding the deaths of his mother and his uncle, Larry Straub gives voice to his thoughts on the subjects of both life and death. He provides subtle advice for not only dealing with the deaths of others, but also for preparing for your own departure. But the majority of his message addresses how to live well first.
The text is framed by the events surrounding the death of his Uncle Junior and, retroactively, the author's mother. Enough time has passed that Straub can view those passings as objectively as can be expected.
The bulk of the book is categorized by seasonal "corridors" representing the four stages of life, which makes for an interesting and predictable structure. The "Summer Corridors" section deals more with living life and is therefore divided into "lessons" instead of chapters. Here the author emphasizes the importance of family and even gives the reader ideas about how to choose an appropriate mate. He encourages us to share our emotions with our loved ones, either verbally or on paper. He offers some notions about child-rearing as well. Since his father has remarried, he can also speak to the benefits of being part of an extended stepfamily.
Straub -- a middle-aged family man, businessman and adjunct professor from Kansas -- takes a concept from the business world by recommending we each write a mission statement for our lives. That's an intriguing suggestion, and one that no doubt would help us in writing our own eulogies, which he later recommends. He also lists what he considers to be the six fundamental truths of life: own your emotions; learn to negotiate; find balance in your life; pick your battles wisely; we don't deal the cards; and don't take yourself too seriously. These admonitions read more like directions or morals than ultimate truths, but the advice is appropriate enough. We are led to pay attention to the transitional points in our lives, both planned and unplanned. And for further inspiration, a brief list of people who lived well and died well appears near the end of the book.
While Straub is obviously a man of some religious convictions, he makes every attempt to avoid making this a religious book. He takes a big risk by dealing with issues that for many people are based on religion, and he tries very hard not to lead his discussion in any one denominational direction. He is continually conscious of the tightrope he's walking -- making reference to it often -- and does not thrust his own religious feelings upon us, for fear of insulting or alienating the reader. And yet by not taking a clear stand, he runs the risk of being just average, and that's what we end up with in Autumn Corridors. It's Straub's first book, and it's probably the book he had wanted to write for a long time. It's not without merit; it can provide everyday guidance for those searching for it. But one gets the impression that the author is tiptoeing carefully upon every subject he brings up so as not to offend anyone. In that case, he's not following his own fundamental truths too closely.
Autumn Corridors won't take the world by storm, and Straub claims that's fine with him. The book offers food for thought for those right-minded readers who are willing to set time aside to read about life and death. Perhaps the autumn of one's life is a good time to participate in that kind of reflection.
Corinne H. Smith
19 January 2008