Cover Image: The Book of Grief and Hamburgers

The Book of Grief and Hamburgers

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Member Reviews

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher ECW Press for an advanced copy of this essay collection on grief, life and hamburgers. 

To Freud a cigar was sometimes just a cigar, but to Stuart Ross, poet, essayist, publisher and writer of The Book of Grief and Hamburgers, a hamburger can sometimes be a stand in for grief, love, loss, pain, wonder, and fear. A simple meat patty on a bun allows Mr. Ross to write about the recent loss of both his brother, and last surviving family member and and close friend. Mr. Ross "grills" his psyche to find out what these losses have done to him, how he can continue, and how amazingly life goes on. 

A friend once mentioned that when things got heavy or "real" in poems by Mr. Ross a hamburger would appear. Usually for comic relief, maybe to hide something more. This book is a essay collection, with some prose poem scattered among a memoir. The work is hard to categorize. However it is powerful in both the grief he writes about feeling, and how he writes about going on. The Year of Magical Thinking as written by Wimpy, the friend of the sailor Popeye in the Thimble Theatre comic strips. There are many burger references, film references, book and poems, which for someone who loves to get to know someone from what they enjoy I loved. 

I was unfamiliar with Mr. Ross as a poet, but his writing here is very strong, and flows well. As one travels through life it does amaze how many people that have been apart of your journey, fall away and leave, before our journey ends. Mr. Ross discusses this, as being the last member of his family, in a sometimes raw, sometimes humourous way, that I'll be honest made me cry quite a bit. I was glad he was persisting, and writing this is a way of going on. I hope he is doing well.

In my opinion this is a good book for a person who is recently bereaved, but with some caveats. The person might not take the book in the way that Mr. Ross meant. Death and flame broiling  might be a little too much for someone. However the book really is a very good meditation on loss, and how to get through. The poet endures, so will you. And someday someone will raise a hamburger in our honor, I hope that person will be ok with that loss.
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Not sure how I felt about this. It was intriguing but I couldn't connect with it on a personal level and it some poems felt a bit odd.
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This is a strange little book. Stuart Ross uses the motif of hamburgers to try and come to terms with his grief at the loss of his brother during COVID and to tackle the floodgates of grief that open because of it. He looks back at his family losses and the wider losses of his friends and community and tries to make sense of what is happening to friends who have been diagnosed with terminal illness. 

He chose hamburgers because they are a recurring theme in his writing and a friend noted that he uses the term to avoid having to express complex emotions and sadness, so it seemed apt to test it out in this meditation on loss.

It isn't really a book that teaches you anything or comes to any meaningful conclusions. It's more a deeply personal, heartfelt wander around a subject that is notoriously hard to talk about and come to terms with. I liked it because it didn't have any big life lessons to give. If there is any bigger message to take here it is that grief is a uniquely personal event and that we can mourn and grieve however we like.
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Hamburgers have featured heavily in Stuart Ross’ poems over the years. Usually introduced, according to the poet himself, when emotions were running high and some levity was needed, they work overtime in this remarkable book. 
In the mostly autobiographical, aptly-titled “The Book of Grief and Hamburgers”, Stuart Ross discusses vegetarianism, Jewishness, Kafka, hamburgers and even people called Hamburger, but mostly he writes about grief; grief following the death of his brother, (something I can relate to), the death of friends and about famous writers who wrote about grief….and hamburgers. A book-length essay, written in verses much like a long poem, the text flows easily, its length unnoticed or irrelevant, like a conversation with an old friend. Famous quotes from films and notable last words pepper the book, albeit after having been “hamburger-fied” (my word for having key words removed and replaced with “hamburger”. Drawings, family photos and poems by other poets also make poignant appearances. 
If you hadn’t already guessed, this is a tough book. As it progresses, the reader gets the impression that Ross is using hamburgers as a “safe space” (to use a modern term) to avoid facing his grief. And there is a lot of it, as friend after friend contacts him to tell him they are either ill or already facing death. Being surrounded by death prompts him to consider suicide. Correctly identifying grief as more of a process of coming to terms, he invites the reader along for the ride. He asks difficult questions - what were his brothers’ last thoughts? Did they know they were dying? Questions that we have undoubtedly asked ourselves at such times. 
Ross makes the profound and affecting observation that he is alive in a world where he will never talk with his parents or brothers again, and wishes he could not be alive himself. At one point he realises that he is procrastinating about facing his own grief in the book, but the reader is happy to stick with him, especially when it’s this well-written.
This stunning work is a eulogy for those who have already passed, and a pained scream for connection with those who are still living. Cathartic, profound, remorseful and brilliant, “The Book of Grief and Hamburgers” is about grief and learning how to grieve, about seeing someone for what might be the last time, and as someone who has been very recently bereaved, at times the book is almost too much to bear. Anyone holding out for a happy ending will be disappointed, but as a way of working through grief this book is a therapy session that you’ll be glad you signed up for.
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