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Ever picture a delicious Thanksgiving meal with turkey, potatoes and all the sides and trimmings? Sounds great, right? Ever have that meal served on the lid of a trash can some bum urinated in the night before? No? Well, let me tell you that was my reaction to Mitch Albom’s 1997 memoir Tuesdays with Morrie. It has wonderful things to say, but it is presented to the reader in very poor way. The novel chronicled Albom’s relationship with his former college professor Morrie Schwartz in the months leading up to the latter’s death due to Lou Gehrig’s disease. During this time, Morrie and Mitch discuss life, what it means to be alive, and the acceptance of death. For clarity’s sake, I will refer to Mitch Albom the character as “Mitch” and Mitch Albom the author as “Albom”.
As suggested earlier, I did not care much for the novel for various reasons which will be discussed below. However, I do feel that Albom touches on several key themes which I agree with; it is how those themes are presented is what made me disappointed in the novel.
Unlike apparently thousands of others, this book had absolutely no impact on my life at all other than realizing that Tuesdays with Morrie is not as good as I thought it was. I first read Tuesdays with Morrie in 2000, during my senior year of high school. I remember liking it then, and I looked forward to rereading it. Words cannot fully explain how disappointed I was with the novel after my second read through.
To begin with, Morrie was written as such a “Mary Sue”. A “Mary Sue” is a type of character who is overly idealized, presented with few flaws, and is beloved by every other character for no apparent reason. Morrie was presented in that fashion. Every person in the book seems to love Morrie, and I cannot understand why. He is likeable, but his mere presence seems to cause others to act outside his or her box. For example, Mitch’s wife, Janine, is a singer, but refuses to sing anytime someone asks her to. However, upon meeting Morrie for the first time, she willing agrees to sing for him. If she did this because it was Morrie asking, then this is a perfect example of being a “Mary Sue”. On the other hand, if she sang because he was dying, then that would seem very much in contradiction to the general theme Albom is trying to present in his novel.
It also bothered me that no one ever questioned Morrie on his views, as if Morrie spoke the absolute truth. For example, in “The Tenth Tuesday”, Morrie discusses his view on marriage and claims that people today are too selfish to commit to a relationship and thats why people are getting married later and divorcing more. I found this to be misguided, and Morrie comes off as being a cranky old man talking about how his generation was better. Two-thirds of all divorces filed today are by women, because equality has reached a point to where women have much more freedom in today’s world than they did in the 1950s, when Morrie was married. The implication here is that the divorce rate might be higher back in Morrie’s time if the social restrictions that were present then were not in place. It is not that Morrie’s opinion is wrong, but it did not ring true that Mitch, a reporter, would easily accept the belief without question.
Albom makes the writer’s mistake of telling and not showing. Early on in the novel, Mitch is depicted as being not very happy due to his career driven ways. As his relationship with Morrie unfolds, it is implied that Mitch begins to rethink his ways. However, we never learn how Mitch actually changes. Granted, in real life, readers can learn how Mitch became the author of the most successful memoir in the United States, received a lifetime achievement award for his writing and humanitarian work, and was accused of manufacturing news stories. However, nothing in Mitch’s life beyond Morrie’s death (other than Mitch’s occasionally mentioned brother) is explored. There is not even a statement of how Mitch’s life is going to be different after his experience.
Considering this novel is a memoir, everything depicted in it is true. However, considering the way everything was presented, I had to keep reminding myself that it was true. I realized how much of a high esteem Albom holds Morrie up to, but given the way Morrie is presented in the novel, it is difficult to relate to him and see him in a very believable light.
Even though the messages in Tuesdays with Morrie are positive and upbeat (which, undoubtedly, contributed to the novel’s popularity), I felt the presentation style of those messages and the depiction of Morrie cheapened the overall narrative. However, it is clear that Albom idolized Morrie and presented that idolized version in his work, and, even though it is a memoir, it gives the novel a feeling of false sentimentality. This is disappointing to me as many of the messages discussed in the novel I agree with. I suppose, if I ever have a mentor that I end up writing about, I will be sure not to repeat the mistakes that Albom did.
Author’s Note: This article was adapted from a graduate paper I wrote in Spring 2010.