Dorothy Gallagher's husband, Ben Sonnenberg, the author of Lost Property: Memoirs and Confessions of a Bad Boy
, died more than a decade ago. At the time of his death, he had suffered from multiple sclerosis for many years and was almost completely paralyzed, but his wonderful, playful mind remained quite undimmed. In the ten sections of If You're Ever Back This Way
, Gallagher moves freely and intuitively between present and past to evoke the life they shared together and her life after his death, alone, and yet at the same time never without thought of him, in a present that is haunted but also comforted by the recollection of their common past. She talks—and the whole book is written conversationally, confidingly, unpretentiously—she talks about small things—moving into a new apartment and setting it up, growing tomatoes on a new deck—and as she does she recalls her missing husband's elegant clothes and English affectations, what she knew about him and didn't know, the devastating toll of his disease and the ways the two of them found to deal with it. She talks about their two dogs and their cat, Bones, and the role that a photograph she never took had in bringing her together with her husband. Her mother, eventually succumbing to dementia, is also here, along with friends, an old typewriter, episodes from a writing life, and her husband's last days. The stories Gallagher has to tell could not be more ordinary, and yet her glancing, wry approach to memory and life give them an extraordinary resonance that makes reader feel both the logic and the mystery, as quirky as they are profound, of a couple's common existence. Gallagher's prose is perfectly pitched and her eye for detail unerring. This slim book about irremediable loss and unending love distills the essence of a lifetime.