Beyond the Horizon is Marvin Wilmes’ moving memoir about growing up in the turbulent sixties and trying to maintain his Catholic face amid family tragedy. It can be said that every life is worthy of a memoir. Every life is dramatic – every family likely faces illness and certainly faces deaths of loved ones. Wilmes certainly had a storied life and he has crafted an uplifting tome that should help readers navigate through their own troubled times.
Overall, Wilmes’ memoir is a pleasant and comforting read. What’s relaxing about the book, and should help bring readers solace, is that it’s not a memoir with an overwhelming hook. Though Wilmes has faced personal difficulty in his life, Beyond the Horizon isn’t a retelling of the Book of Job; he has not had to contend with one disaster after another. His concerns in his life are those that are reflected by many other people: family illness and the deaths of loved ones. Everyone will be able to see their own story in Wilmes’ own, which is why the memoir is so often effective. It’s a quiet memoir about big themes – life and death, religion, and family.
At times, however, the memoir could have used more depth in how it explores its themes. It races through major moments in history – JFK’s assassination, for example. Though countless books have been written on the subject, there’s not enough context to explore this moment in history except to say, “I lived through that too.” Wilmes seems to want to get down as much information about his life as he can, but in doing so the memoir seems a bit rushed. It’s epic in its scope, but perhaps to a fault.
In a way, this is what makes Beyond the Horizon a relaxing read: it’s not really a heavy read, it’s a quiet summation of a life. Wilmes’ conversational style feels like listening to a man telling stories over dinner. He’s not trying to overwhelm or impress, he’s just saying, “This is the life I led.” Unfortunately at times, the pull of the narrative may be most interesting to those who know Wilmes and his family personally, rather than telling a more universal tale about the last half century. Wilmes’ own family would be able to fill in the gaps that are left unexplored for the casual reader.
It’s tough to criticize a book about someone’s personal adversity, but a memoir needs to tell a story that hasn’t been told before, or dive very deeply into its subject. Merely summarizing events from a life may not be enough. Certainly this book can be comforting to certain readers, especially those exploring the Catholic faith, but overall Beyond the Horizon needed to be more in depth to be a completely cathartic and satisfying read.
Still, there’s a lot to learn from Wilmes’ memoir. He’s an enormously good-hearted and strong person and his story is inspiring. By the end you’ll want to meet him. This story of his life just needed a bit more detail to be a fully-realized work.
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