Reading stories about the lives of fictional characters is wonderful, for it allows readers to experience a life unlike their own. And yet, reading the actual stories of actual people can most certainly be a breath of fresh air. Memoirs can be incredibly intriguing, inspirational, and even surprising. For writers to be able to share difficult experiences they have endured in their lives for any reader to pick up and read at any time is a brave and beautiful thing to do. Writer Susan Stellin and photographer Graham MacIndoe are a couple who have endured so much, yet still managed to stay together afterwards and shared the struggles they endured over their most difficult years in a memoir of their own, Chancers – Addiction, Prison, Recovery, Love: One Couple’s Memoir.
Susan Stellin had no idea who would be entering her life when she asked Graham MacIndoe to take her picture for her upcoming travel book. Opposites certainly did attract when the independent New Yorker and the recently sober divorced Scotsman grew quite fond of one another. After a short while of being happily together, a terrible revelation reared its ugly head: Graham had been hiding a drug addiction. When he was unable to break his habit, Graham found himself imprisoned at Rikers Island and facing a possible deportation. Through months of a seemingly unwinnable battle against the criminal justice system, Susan helped Graham stick out his sentence. After countless struggles, Graham managed to fight his addiction, Susan fought to save Graham from deportation back to Scotland, and the two won their unwinnable battle by fighting together.
Memoirs normally seem to focus on one person’s life and are normally written by that one person. To read a memoir written not only by two people, but to also hear both sides of the spectrum makes for a morbidly beautiful experience for the reader. Both Stellin and MacIndoe are incredibly honest about their lives and they do not hide anything, writing about everything that happened: the good, the bad, and the ugly. This can come as quite a surprise for it is almost like reading someone’s private journal.
The way it is written will capture the reader’s attention from the prologue and will not release its hold until the reader has finished. It will make readers want to keep turning the page and make readers feel so many different emotions: love, betrayal, loss, hope, longing, and so much more. As aforementioned, readers will hear from both Stellin and MacIndoe. The two took turns revealing what they endured by alternating chapters and writing in the first person. Stellin wrote her chapters in the past tense while Graham wrote his in the present. Normally, the mix of tenses would not allow the story to flow very well; however, it really helps to express the roller coaster ride they endured in the emotional and even literal sense.
There is a beautiful metaphor Stellin shared about the struggles of life that anyone will be able to relate to and one that should be shared with everyone. “When you’re in a rowboat that’s taking on water, bailing out can mean scooping up the water and dumping it over the side, over and over again. As long as you keep at it, you can keep the boat from sinking – save everyone, save yourself. And for a while, it works. You feel like you could keep up this rhythm forever: scraping a plastic cup along the bottom of the boat, lifting it up, pouring out the water. But it’s exhausting. Your arms begin to throb with pain; everywhere else goes numb. Finally, as the water rises and the boat really starts to sink, you realize the only option left is the other kind of bailing out – to jump. It’s not about saving yourself, because once you take that leap, you’ll still be out there in the unknown, drifting away from the boat that’s disappearing as you helplessly watch it go down. You’ll still need someone to come along and save you, or hope you somehow make it to shore” (Stellin and MacIndoe 159-160).
For a memoir about a couple battling the terrifying enemy of drug addiction, where does the title Chancers come into play? The term chancer is defined as “an opportunist or risk taker” (Stellin and MacIndoe 103). Both Stellin and MacIndoe took many chances and many risks and, in the end, came out victorious. Life is a struggle and this couple’s story portrays how hard life can be, but it also portrays how no one is helpless and can fight to keep living. It is a morbidly beautiful story about two very real people that will reach a broad audience, capturing the attention of anyone who picks up their book. Chancers is a wonderful memoir about hope and how love can truly conquer all.