rating: 3 of 5 stars
Therese Bartholomew's short, yet powerful memoir, Coffee Shop God takes the reader through the journey of a sister's grief of her lost brother. In 2003, two days before Valentine's Day, Therese's younger brother, Steve, was shot in the chest by Karl Staton at a Greenvile, SC-area strip club. Steve and Karl had an argument over Karl's girlfriend and Karl shot Steve in the heart, killing him instantly. The title of the book comes from Therese trying to find Steve so that she can have some hope. While in her neighborhood coffee shop, she meets a man who is also grieving and they comfort each other. She believes this is God's sign to her that Steve is in heaven and that there is a God.
This book is comprised of 10 essays which discuss the moment the family found out about Steve's death, to the days and weeks immediately following the tragedy, and, finally, to discovering the new normal of living in a world without Steve. Therese is a master of funneling the senses we ignore (smell, sound, taste and touch) into powerful word pictures that capture the moment without sentimentality or prolonged trauma. She is matter-of-fact in her delivery, yet poignant and emotionally raw all at the same time. Therese also lets her humor shine through, especially when she acknowleges how much time she spends in her pajamas with "pajamas are my favorite clothes."
Therese describes Steve as her soulmate. She says, "My little brother is alone somewhere, and I need to be there. I need us to be kids again, snuggled in the same top bunk. I need to spend summer hours crouched in our gravel driveway, feeling my palms brush and push the rocks to the side, creating cities and towns and neighborhoods for our Matchbox cars." She later says, "With one phone call, my little brother became a permanent was in my life. I can't grasp the concept of him as past tense -- a phase like bangs or an ex-boyfriend."
Steve was also extremely close to Therese's children, especially Jessica, whom she had while still in high school. She describes Steve as giving her unconditional love and support when her ex-boyfriend stopped returning her calls.
Besides Therese's point of view, we also hear from her parents, her older brother, her niece, nephew and daughter. These voices will be even more fully heard on her upcoming documentary, "The Final Gift," which will be released in late 2009 or early 2010. In this film, she addresses what her brother's killer's life must be like now and how society makes peace with crime.
I had the pleasure of hearing Therese read her essay, "Sisters," from her book at the June Open Mic I facilitated in Wake Forest at Storytellers Bookstore. She commanded the room with her words, especially in passages such as this one where she's in the courtroom bathroom moments before the killer's sentencing. "The door opens and someone moves into the stall next to mine. I flush instinctively even though I've only been taking up this space. A toilet flushes and takes my moment with it. The woman comes out and joins me at the next sink. I look over toward her in that awkward bathroom moment with a stranger."
I wish this book would have been longer so I could have had more opportunity to enjoy Therese's powerful writing. Even though the subject matter is very dark and full of struggle, you finish the book knowing Therese is able to transcend the somber tone into one of hope and forgiveness. She concludes with, "Fear is the truest opposite of faith. I force myself to choose faith every day."
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