Author: Norman McCombs
Overview from the Author’s Site:
An epic tale beginning in 15th-century Scotland and flowing through time to modern-day New York, A Reason to Be is a tale of loss, hope, and the transcendent power of the love that bind us to one another.
Douglas McCombs is an accomplished engineer and recent widower driven to discover the truth of who he is by studying the people and places he comes from. After losing his wife to a battle with Alzheimer’s, Douglas is left devastated until a chance encounter with a sharp, compassionate librarian named Suzy Hamilton on the steps of the New York Public Library shakes him from the throes of grief.
With Suzy’s help, Douglas takes up genealogy and begins an investigation into his Scottish lineage that takes the reader on a sprawling journey through time and the remarkable lives of Douglas’s ancestors—from legendary highland clan chiefs and American war generals to humble farmers and family men. As he traces his ancestry through the generations, Douglas manages to discover not only the roots he was searching for, but also a brand-new reason to be.
This novel travels through multiple generations as Douglas McCombs researches his ancestors. I loved the family tree in the beginning of this novel as it was a nice visualization of the overall flow of the story as our main character looks at the furthest generation and slowly transitions down the line until he gets to his closer ancestors.
A Reason to Be, lives up to its title as the characters in the story (both past and present) find their reason to be. This can be anything from your romantic partner, your career, a hobby – essentially it is anything that motivates you to get up every day (it can be one or multiple). For Douglas, his reason to be used to be his wife and now that she’s gone he now has to discover if it’s possible to move forward and find another reason to be.
Our protagonist is Douglas McCombs who is a seventy year-old inventor who creates mostly medical equipment. His wife Hope has passed away from dementia. He was her sole caregiver and devoted over the past five years to trying to ensure her best survival. After she passes, he is now alone to deal with his grief and depression. For months after her death, he can barely muster the strength to get out of bed and his friend (who he thinks of as a son), Mark comes to try and assist Douglas move forward. He convinces Douglas to do small things, such as taking a walk, as he tries to persuade him to pick-up on his old passion of genealogy. While they are in front of the library, they meet a literary researcher, Suzy, who helps Douglas find out about his past. He delves into his family’s history to not only learn more about the past, but how it has affected his present and possible future.
The chapters alternate between the past and present. Our present timeline moves along as we follow along Douglas and his journey to find out who his family used to be and how it’s helped shape who he is. Our past portions of the story are devoted one chapter per generation in a chronological order. We start with the fourth Great-grandfather of Douglas McCombs and move down the line to his father where we also get a glimpse into Douglas’ childhood through the eyes of his father. As we return to the present after each ancestor’s chapter, we see Douglas process who these men were and how he inherited traits from multiple members.
This novel delves into multiple themes of love, family, and friendship. Along his journey, Douglas discovers the meaning of each and how it can affect his life without him even realizing it. Each of those affect him in a different way that is revealed as you read through the chapters. Overall, it does make the reader want to dive into their own ancestry to find out how who they are today relates to those found in their past. It’s an interesting concept to explore why someone is the way they are and how who we are could potentially affect the future.
I honestly loved every page of this book as each ancestor and every chapter played its part. There was just enough detail and imagery to complete the scenery and tones. When the character were happy, you were able to interpret that without the author having to explicitly mention it (same with other emotions as well). The relationship between Suzy and Douglas is very natural and relatable as they form a great bond through their love of history. With that initial foundation, they explored what else they had in common and how they could form a partnership outside of the library. It’s a very well-written relationship as each character stays true to themselves while also growing together and as individuals.