There were many highlights from my experience at SIBA in Charleston this year, but one really stood out in my mind. It was when I heard Neil Abramson speak on a panel about his new book "Unsaid". What he had to say really got to me, and everyone else in the room. Having loved and lost many pets, I knew this book would have the potential to bring me to my knees. I generally avoid these types of books like the plague, but in this case, I knew I had to make an exception no matter what the result. There was a certain kind of ethereal grace emanating from this book that I had to experience.
Synopsis: In life, Helena was a woman who loved and cared for animals. Her career as a veterinarian allowed her to give medical care to pets of all kinds, but also required that she help owners know when it was time to say goodbye and assist in that journey. Helena has made mistakes though...one particular that haunts her, even now after she has passed away. And these mistakes are keeping her earthbound.
Watching from a bird's eye view, Helena observes her husband struggle to keep his head above water, working as a high-powered attorney by day and caring for Helena's menagerie of animals by night. She watches her mentor and vet partner struggle to keep the practice afloat. She follows a lonely vet assistant and her young autistic son who has a special affinity with animals. She regards her now absence from a project with a special chimp named Cindy, who is on the brink of breaking through the communication barrier between human and creature.
When Cindy's life is threatened, it is up to her husband to save her, atone for Helena's guilt, and allow her soul to be at rest.
My opinion: There was a lot going on in this gentle book, but all of it embraced the non-verbal, the UNSAID, the spiritual connection between man and animal. The wag of a tail, a whinny, a nudge, a whimper, eye-contact. This is the way that animals try to communicate with us. We just have to slow down long enough to hear them.
It is with a quiet grace that Abramson addresses the issue, the importance, of knowing when to let go, both from the standpoint of grieving a friend/spouse/co-worker and from the standpoint of a sick pet. This is perhaps the hardest, most painful thing in life, no? I can't even think about it without going off the deep end. But I never fell apart while under Abramson's spell. He handled it all with kid gloves. I only cried three times.
Many other issues were addressed too. The care provided by a vet clinic, and handling it either with your heart or treating it as a business. The challenges and blessings of raising an autistic child, and the connection such a child can have with animals (Temple Grandin is a perfect example). Towards the end of the book, the wagons really circled around the issue of animal experimentation, and the rights of those animals, climaxing into a courtroom scene. The overall focus of the novel, therefore, gets a bit diluted, but never loses its impact.
If you are an animal-lover, this one is not to be missed. The risk of tears is worth the reward of a story that will warm your heart.
4.5 out of 5 stars