- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 24, 2008

SOMEWHERE IN HEAVEN: THE REMARKABLE LOVE STORY OF DANA AND CHRISTOPHER REEVE

By Christopher Andersen

Hyperion, $23.95, 230 pages, illus.

REVIEWED BY GRACE VUOTO

Christopher Andersen’s “Somewhere in Heaven” is both inspiring and disappointing. This is the love story of the actor, Christopher Reeve, best known for his performance as Superman in the four movies of that name (1978-1983). The author seeks to reveal the depth of affection between Christopher Reeve and his wife, Dana, from the moment they met in the summer of 1987 until 2004 when Christopher Reeve died due to cardiac arrest brought on by systemic infections. In 1995, Christopher was in a horse-riding accident that caused severe spinal-cord injuries. The tall, energetic, athletic and adventurous actor was a paraplegic for the rest of his life. Dana’s resolve in seeing her husband through the critical moments and weeks after the accident, and her sustaining love throughout the rest of their years together, is the centerpiece of this gripping tale.

The main problem with the book is that Mr. Andersen, who has also penned best-sellers about other celebrities such as Lady Diana and John F. Kennedy Jr., tries to paint too flattering a portrait of Christopher and Dana; he attempts to whitewash their flaws and imperfections. In order for us to fully admire Christopher and Dana, we must know them, warts and all. The author glosses over some areas, and thus we fail to connect fully with the people who are at the heart of this love affair.

By his own admission, Christopher was a self-obsessed actor prior to the incident that changed his life. Before he met Dana Morosini in a club in which the singer-actress was performing, he had cavorted with countless women. He stated that his many one-night stands in his youth were not satisfying. When he awoke in the morning beside someone he did not know, he said it was “embarrassing and vaguely disappointing.” Christopher also fathered two children out of wedlock, Alexandra and Matthew, with his decade-long paramour, Gae Exton, a British model agent. He refused to marry Gae because he was a commitment phobe and believed that “marriage is a sham.” He agreed with Gae that having two children out of wedlock was “tacky” yet, nonetheless, he refused to marry her.

When Christopher met Dana, by his account, his relationship with Gae was over and he fell in love at first sight. Mr. Andersen briefly mentions that rumors swirled, fueled by a story recounted in the National Enquirer, that Dana and Christopher had a relationship months before Christopher’s stated time-line. The author does not probe into these allegations, yet the book would have been well served by a fuller exploration of Christopher’s and Dana’s previous lives.

The author also leaves some clues that all wasnot well during their courtship. In particular, Dana wanted to marry and Christopher did not: He even underwent therapy and discovered that his commitment phobia was in part fueled by his fear that he was always looking for the next great “babe” to come along. It was only after five years together, when Dana became pregnant with Will in 1992 that Christopher agreed to marry. All the complexities in this part of their lives are only alluded to, not fully addressed.

Mr. Andersen is at his best in reconstructing the immediate scenes that took place after the accident. Christopher’s mother thought the family should pull the plug on the machines thatsustained her son’s life: She believed he would not wish to live as a paraplegic. Dana insisted that Christopher must decide his own fate. Her love saved him. And her love allowed him to find solace and even joy in the ensuing years. The most poignant parts of the book are the words by Christopher and Dana in explaining their reaction to the accident and in recounting their sense of loss. Christopher related that in his dreams, he was always in full health. The saddest moments were when he awoke in the morning and realized his state. He cried often for 20 minutes in the morning, full of regret and self-reproach for the accident that robbed him of his former life.

Christopher’s perseverance in attempting to regain some mobility, such as the ability to move his left finger and wriggle his toes is truly outstanding. Due to the high cost of keeping his medical bills, he was also obliged to keep working. He had triumphs such as his surprise appearance at the 1996 Oscars and his critically acclaimed directorial debut of the HBO drama, “In the Gloaming” (1997). He won a Screen Actors Guild Award for his performance in “Rear Window” (1988) and his autobiography, “Still Me,” was a best-seller for which he won a Grammy Award (Best Spoken Word Album). He also devoted himself to causes he held dear, such as environmentalism and stem-cell research. Yet Mr. Andersen does not dwell much on the controversies involved in the actor’s promotion of stem-cell research.

Perhaps the greatest failure of the book is that readers are not given much of a window into the transcendental values that Christopher and Dana adopted several years after the accident. We are told that they were adherents of Unitarian Universalism. The author explains this simply as faith that “God is love.” But to fully grasp how the couple surmounted the obstacles they faced during Christopher’s years as a paraplegic, readers need to know more about the core values the couple embraced. These values are at the very center of the love story that is being celebrated. Without a full exposition, the narrative falls flat.

Ultimately, Mr. Andersen is more interested in telling us how impressive the couple is, rather than allowing us to really get to know them and to discover their merits on our own. Christopher and Dana are indeed an inspiration: But the author does not do his subjects justice.

Grace Vuoto is an editorial writer at The Washington Times. The opinions expressed are her own.

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