“Write what you know” is common, clichéd advice sometimes given to aspiring authors. But what if the story the writer is being urged to relate is so entwined around one’s soul that one cannot tell it without dismantling a piece of oneself? 13,760 Feet: My Personal Hole in the Sky is just such a (true) story and author Mark L. Berry has done a truly admirable job with the telling.
The core of the narrative is loss and grief: Berry’s beloved fiancé Susanne was a victim of the explosion of TWA Flight 800 which exploded shortly after takeoff on July 17,1996. The probable cause of the explosion has been officially declared to be related to flammable vapors in a fuel tank; however controversy still surrounds this event, which Berry discusses in the memoir.
Losing one’s partner on the cusp of starting a new life together is a devastating event for anyone, but it was even more far-reaching for Berry as an airline pilot for TWA. In a very literal sense, his employer and profession were in part responsible for Susanne’s death, and Berry’s sense of personal culpability is poignantly evident. The long path Berry describes to healing provides hope for those struggling with similar losses and misplaced guilt and anger.
Berry tells his story with a humble honesty and dignity. He does not try to paper over his faults or excuse his transgressions, but neither does he bridle in the true joy and excitement that airplanes and flying bring to his life. The recounting of the struggles and sacrifices made to achieve his dream career as a pilot are encouraging to anyone trying to make their way in a challenging profession.
The audio performance primarily by Berry himself and some of his friends and co-workers is also very well done. This is a highly personal story and deserves to be told directly by the author and those involved. Berry’s irrepressible spirit shows through his tone and wholly engages the reader in the story.
As an added feature, interspersed throughout this audiobook are original songs co-written by the author together with various musicians including Meri Amber (whom we’ve covered on this site in various articles). As a rapid reader, I initially found the songs intrusive and disruptive of the flow of events, but Berry’s upbeat rhythms eventually won me over. Even his most mournful tunes had a bit of skip and bounce to them, belying his inherent inner optimism.
All in all, this was a wonderful, moving story of a very likeable human being who found his way back to the sunshine after overwhelming loss.