Sunday, March 1, 2009

Somewhere in Heaven

The Remarable Love Story of Dana and Christopher Reeve
by Christopher Anderson
238 pages
Reviewed by Melissa

We all know the story: Christopher Reeve, the actor forever tied with the role of Superman, broke his neck in a freak horseriding accident in 1995, and was paralyzed from the neck down. It was a tragedy: someone who had been associated with activity and strength for his whole life suddenly consigned to sitting in a wheelchair for the rest of it. He made the best of his life after the accident, urging for research and raising money for the American Paralysis Assocation, with help from his wife and the love of his life, Dana.

It's supposed to be a soaring story, one full of emotion and heartbreak, of tragedy and triumph. But all I felt was an annoyance. I felt like before the accident, all Reeve really had to recommend himself was that he wasn't a jerk. I'm sure he felt great love for his eventual wife (they lived together for years because Reeve had a fear of commitment), but their courtship came off as cloying. And not to dis the dead guy, but I came away with the impression that, while a determined individual, he was also somewhat shallow and selfish. However, I blame the author, not Reeve himself. Anderson was exceptionally maudlin in his portrayal of the Reeves (I now know more about their sex life -- both before and after the accident -- than I ever wanted to know), and made a point of name-dropping whenever he could. I'm glad that Reeve was best friends with all these famous people, but I'm not sure how important it was to know who he knew. (With the exception of Robin Williams; I guess he and Christopher were best buds, and that Williams was a big part of Reeve's determination to make the best of it after the accident.)

In addition, the whole book was a good lesson in showing versus telling. Anderson kept telling me that Christopher and Dana were wonderful together, that they had an abiding love, and I just never felt it. I was told of the sacrifice, of the hours spent trying to make Reeve's life livable, but because of the little asides throughout the book (from the several houses and custom yacht to the cost of the machines Reeve used after the accident), all I could feel was that it was really lucky Reeve was relatively well off. If he'd been an average Joe, he probably would have died. Except there was no feeling of pure luck, of chance, in the book. The author presented his lifestyle almost as an entitlement (he makes it seem an accomplishment and burden that Reeve kept working to avoid bankruptcy; it's a good thing he got $100,000 per speech). The message seemed to be that while Reeve may have made some bad decisions as an actor, he was still good looking, and still talented, and (most of all) he had Love, so he deserved to spend millions of dollars making a go of it.

Then there was the long-suffering, angelic (though she insisted that she wasn't) Dana, who stood by her man, who sacrificed her career for his (and their) children, who died of lung cancer about a year after Reeve succumbed to an infection. She was beautiful, talented, amazing, wonderful... and completely unsympathetic because she was too perfect.

I sound more callous than I should; I'm treating the book more like a novel. These were real people, and I'm sure they had a real love and a real desire and it was a real tragedy that really changed their lives. Perhaps someone can write a book that can really capture that, because this one just didn't.

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