Smart Beach Reading

After reading Robert Sabbag's superbly economical prose, some cutting to the chase seems in order. Down Around Midnight is one of the best books I've read this year and one of the very best memoirs I've ever read. In the avalanche of Woe-Is-Me memoirs that the publishing industry seems determined to foist upon us this book is a rarity - a tale of tragedy and introspection that actually has meaning. Sabbag asks us, simply, to consider what it means to be lucky.

I'm sure that many people like myself whose work requires an amount of airplane travel are fascinated by aviation accidents. Whether that fascination is purely morbid, a twisted hope that one can study up for the big event or just an outlet for fear I don't claim to know. I do know that after a two emergency landings and several unpleasant severe turbulence experiences I've wondered more than once what it would be like to be in a plane crash. What would it feel like? What would I do?

Robert Sabbag delivers the answers for his experience right up front. If he's going to tell a story about a plane crash he's not going to hide the main event for last. And that should give you a good idea of the kind of story teller he is: no nonsense, no tricks, and definitely no BS. This is a "slim volume" as the saying goes so it's difficult to talk about it without giving too much away. Sabbag's story is about talking to other survivors of the crash to sort out what happened from what he remembers happened. Along the way he tells us about NTSB investigations, g-force, life on Cape Cod and the mysteries of memory.

Not only does Sabbag never whine - whether he's talking about learning to walking again after a broken pelvis or grappling with "Survivor's Guilt" - he makes this story enjoyable. He balances the tragedy with a genuine enjoyment of life and the people in his life. He doesn't cut himself any slack either, when he says "I was a bigger jerk than usual", you believe it. Still, you wouldn't mind sitting down at a Cape Cod bar for a cold one with Sabbag, he's good company.

It's one thing to physically survive an airplane crash, it's quite another to be able to make sense of the events and emotions surrounding it all while telling a compelling and accessible story. Sabbag succeeds on all fronts. This is a book I know I'll be recommending as a smart beach read for this year and years to come.

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