Disaster Falls: A Family Story
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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, Stéphane Gerson’s eight-year-old son, Owen, drowned in a spot known as Disaster Falls. That night, as darkness fell, Stéphane 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 an unflinching portrait of a marriage 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,” Stéphane says when Alison shows him a selfie Owen had taken. “He feels so close,” she says.) With beautiful specificity, Stéphane shows how they resist that isolation and reconfigure their marriage from within.
As Stéphane 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 reveals an altogether different 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.
Disaster Falls is a powerful account of a life cleaved in two—raw, truthful, and unexpectedly consoling.
Author: Stéphane Gerson