Book Review of Dispelling The Clouds: A Desperate Social Experiment
[NOTE: Please click on highlighted title above to be taken to Wilma’s site, where you may read many responses/reviews. The book has not yet been published. The review will be updated then.]
When Wilma asked that I be a pre-publication reader of her new book, I felt honoured. When I sent her a quick email upon completion of reading it (at 2:00 a.m.!), I ended with a single word: Wow!
To unpack: Wilma is a captivating storyteller. Not only is she great at this craft, she uses an economy of words that invariably are apt and keep the story crisply moving. Though one is often compelled to pause and linger. She is also a gifted writer who engages her readership as if you are listening to her in a small circle of intimate friends. She has honed her writing craft over many years and books, not to mention a long career as a journalist. In many ways her writing matches her proficiency at presenting to a wide array of those impacted by crime, an equally practised oral skill set over decades before many audiences. “Those impacted” are easily categorized as: “those harmed by crime”—preferable to “victims” in pointedly putting the entire onus on the perpetrator; “those who harmed others”—preferable to “offenders” since in our multivarious humanity we are never reducible to a singular act or label; and “wider community” immediately impacted by crime—and by extension all society.
In our last visit I was delighted to hear that celebrated author Malcolm Gladwell had returned to Christian faith due in part to his researching her story for his book: David and Goliath. This highlights Wilma’s utter authenticity. My first encountering Wilma three decades ago was in that way uncomfortably challenging: how can an offender-oriented prison worker really get it about serious and lethal harm done to a family member? And how can a Restorative Justice worker really get it that forgiveness is the F-word when initiated not invited. Short answers: He can’t! But one can listen, and hopefully work at learning to change . . .
Wilma’s first book about her daughter’s murder was: Have You Seen Candace? The subtitle was arresting: A True Story of Faith and Forgiveness. There was that F-word right out there! In that book and again in this, the reader will learn how she and her husband Cliff took on the mantle of that excruciating, elusive affirmation: I am going to forgive/I have forgiven. Wow!—for many the reaction in first hearing her story; the reaction ever since by so many—and me. Wow!
Well, except initially and at other times for the exclusive community she and family were brutally thrust into: those who had lost a family member to murder. Wilma’s referencing repeatedly this group is invariably and artfully empathetic.
In this book, Wilma writes: “I was living an experiment.
“Consciously or unconsciously, it was just an experiment…motivated by desperation.”
So the reader is drawn to wade in . . . to the uncertain waters of a life course with a chosen lode star named forgiveness. But what does it mean? And how navigated?
Well, the reader follows Wilma with her family guided by that at times barely twinkling celestial orb. The reader is in for a ride; once heartily having climbed on board. We are in turn directed by those guided by the lode star forgiveness. A journey, a star—at our great peril possibly—not to be missed! Else in Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s words, we might bitterly too late discover there is no future—for you, for me, for everyone!—without forgiveness.
The chapter titles of this two-part voyage are likewise sparse: often one, no more than two words. They invite and entice . . . one to perhaps like me stay up to all hours to experience somewhat—at least try!—the expedition! For Wilma offers something emotionally palpable, that if allowed, journeys us along towards an uncertain, complicated, unknowing but deeply rewarding destination. She in fact directs us towards home.
Along this journey one finds multiple pearls of wisdom forged like in the oyster, through great trauma and hardship. They are freely accessible however again and again. The reader will doubtless select a necklace of wisdom gems different from mine: multiply offered, arrestingly impactful.
Wilma also sustains use of metaphors throughout: shapeshifting monsters; stormy clouds (whence the title); “entirely different” life path chosen from many murdered children’s family.
As in all Wilma’s books and presentations read and heard, Wilma’s faith is persistent backdrop that infuses the journey. But for those without faith, it is not presumptuous nor imposed.
Evoking Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”, her closing words are (italics added):
I guess the question now is: Could Cliff and I have been as fulfilled and creative at the end of our lives—where we find ourselves now—if we hadn’t forgiven?
I don’t think so. At the bedroom door, when we saw that dark, frightening presence on our bed—we chose the word forgiveness.
And I do believe it has made all the difference.
In conclusion: “It was just an experiment…” Wow!