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Book Review by Robin Widmar

“Together We Will Go”

Advisory: The following book review contains references to suicide.How does one begin to review a fictional book about the very real topic of suicide? It is a troubling, complex subject that should not be lightly addressed. And yet, author J. Michael Straczynskiís exploration of what drives people to end their lives creates an unlikely tale of humanity, companionship, and ó as odd as it sounds ó hope.Straczynskiís novel ìTogether We Will Goî is the story of people who knowingly sign up for a cross-country road trip that will be their final journey. The excursionís organizer is Mark Antonelli, a failed writer in his late 20s who has not lived up to his own expectations, let alone those of his family. His four-year degree in creative writing means he has ìzero qualifications for any job that pays actual money.î He does not pull any punches about his post-graduation struggles and the bleak future he sees for himself. Mark is ready to exit the merry-go-round of life but on his terms.Mark buys a surplus government tour bus, outfits it with on-board computer gear, and hires Army veteran Dylan to drive it. Then he posts an obscure ad inviting like-minded and committed individuals to join him on the ultimate road trip that will end when the bus drives off a scenic California cliff at sunset. The price of admission? Each passenger must digitally upload their personal stories and ongoing journal entries, all of which will be published posthumously.The people who respond are a diverse lot and their reasons to sign up for one last hurrah are equally different. Some have physical or mental afflictions, like 20-something Karen, who suffers from an extreme chronic pain disorder. Party-girl Lisa is severely bipolar and manic-depressive. Others have reasons that include drug addiction and intense dissatisfaction with life. Vaughn, a 65-year-old widower, carries a suitcase full of cash and a dark secret. Dylan is just there to drive the bus, but he has his own backstory and ends up filling the unofficial roles of guardian and, occasionally, the voice of reason.As expected, friendships develop as the bus makes its way across the country. Karen notes, ìThereís something nice about being just one more rider on a bus thatís taking us all to the same place.î But she also astutely observes, ìAny time you put more than two people together in a small space, thereís always drama.î And there is plenty of conflict to keep the story interesting.The passengers override Markís insistence on keeping a strict schedule. After all, this is supposed to be their last grand adventure. Detours into a strip club, bars, a botanical garden, a museum, a concert and a vacant shopping mall provide entertaining scenarios and character insights. Tensions arise from interpersonal dynamics as well as the ever-present threat of the group suicide plan being discovered and thwarted by others, including law enforcement.The novelís multiple first-person narratives derive from each characterís text messages, journal entries, personal emails and transcripts of recorded conversations. All of it is laced with unexpected humor, though much of it is the dark kind. Contemporary social issues are discussed, including societal perceptions and legalities of suicide and assisted suicide in the United States. Peter, who wants to avoid a long and torturous existence, finds Nevadaís suicide laws ironic: ìThe slot machines and the tables are allowed to destroy your life, but youíre not allowed to take your (own) life.î As the story progresses, readers will wonder: Will any of the characters change their minds? Will those who lost hope find it? A major plot twist leads to a conclusion that feels a little rushed, but is nonetheless satisfying and appropriate to the storyline.Novels are supposed to help us escape from reality and unpleasant aspects of life. Yet, the best books that grace our shelves evoke emotional responses and teach us about life, love and the very messiness of our existence. ìTogether We Will Goî will not appeal to everyone due to its subject matter, epistolary format and profanity-laden discussions of sex, drugs and death. But for those who are willing to give it a go, expect to become emotionally invested in the characters and to think about their stories for a long time afterward.A final note from the author and publisher:ìTogether We Will Goî is an examination of the intense feelings that often underlie suicidal ideation and depression. If you sometimes find yourself experiencing similar feelings, and wish to speak with someone who understands, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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