A haunting chronicle of what endures when the world we know is swept away.
On a day like any other, on a rafting trip down Utah's Green River, Stephane Gerson's eight-year-old son, Owen, drowned in a spot known as Disaster Falls. That same night, as darkness fell, Stephane huddled in a tent with his wife, Alison, and their older son, Julian, trying to understand what seemed inconceivable. It's just the three of us now, Alison said over the sounds of a light rain and, nearby, the rushing river. We cannot do it alone. We have to stick together.
Disaster Falls chronicles the aftermath of that day and their shared determination to stay true to Alison's resolution. At the heart of the book is Stephane's portrait of a marriage critically tested. Husband and wife grieve in radically different ways that threaten to isolate each of them in their post-Owen worlds. (He feels so far, Stephane says, when Alison shows him a selfie Owen had taken. He feels so close, she says.) With beautiful specificity, Stephane shows how they resist that isolation and reconfigure their marriage from within. As Stephane navigates his grief, the memoir expands to explore how society reacts to the death of a child. He depicts the good death of his father, which enlarges Stephane's perspective on mortality. He excavates the history of the Green River rife with hazards not mentioned in the rafting company's brochures. He explores how stories can both memorialize and obscure a person's life and how they can rescue us.
“This diamond-sharp book is both meticulous and breathtaking…While [Stéphane Gerson] takes us to the precipice of the fatality, it’s as if the accident itself is secondary to the larger story. This creates a narrative tension in the passage about the incident itself. Though we know the outcome, we hold our breath as he and Owen approach the falls in a raft: we hope that it will end differently...A beautiful book, even as it deals with unthinkable anguish.”
—Library Journal (starred)
“Disaster Falls is a meditation on family tragedy, facing up to both the thing itself and its consequences, in language whose restraint paradoxically allows the reader access to great depths of emotion. An immensely powerful book.”
“Disaster Falls is as deep and necessary and haunting as grief itself. Without preaching, Stéphane Gerson inspires the reader to love fully, even in the face of loss. This is a gorgeously written book that will stand the test of time.”
—ELIZABETH LESSER, author of Broken Open and Marrow; cofounder of Omega Institute
“I resisted Disaster Falls —afraid to enter its world of very nearly unendurable pain—but once I began reading I was pinned to the spot. This is a spare, lucid, wholly unsentimental, tender, devastating and devastatingly beautiful book.”
—DANI SHAPIRO, author of Slow Motion and Devotion
“In 2002 I lost my five-year-old daughter Grace to a virulent form of strep. In the aftermath of that enormous loss, I sought books that talked about the grief parents feel when their child dies. Not just grief, but anger and guilt and love and mysticism and yes, even hope. Stéphane Gerson has written such a book. Disaster Falls is brutally honest and unflappable, brave and vulnerable. Read it.”
—ANN HOOD, author of Comfort: A Journey Through Grief and The Knitting Circle
“One of the bravest and most breathtakingly honest books I have ever read, Disaster Falls is at once a rigorous exploration of language's power to limn a human life and an incandescent portrait of a family reconfigured by tragedy. Haunting, stark, unforgettable.”
—PRISCILLA GILMAN, author of The Anti-Romantic Child: A Memoir of Unexpected Joy
“Out of the unimaginable loss of a child comes this stunning memoir. Disaster Falls leaps beyond death, avoiding the maudlin by turning toward connection. Stephane Gerson meditates on how to raise children to be confident, life-living risk takers in spite of danger, and shares a generous portrait of a marriage in which husband and wife give each other space in grief and love. An astonishing book.”
—CHRISTA PARRAVANI, author of Her: A Memoir