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Charles McCormack
In Essence, Charles McCormack, LCSW-C, using his own life in illustration, makes palpable the constraining effects of an unhappy childhood on imagining who we can become in adulthood, as well as on the capacity to internalize whatever successes we achieve, thus helping to explain the depression, drug abuse and suicidality of many successful people . With unalloyed honesty, McCormack lays bare his essence revealed in the personal and professional ordeals of his life, along with the lessons he’s drawn, and truthfully continues to draw, from them. Though his story is unique his struggle is not, thus McCormack’s narrative works its way into the psyches of each of us. Stripped of personal conceits, McCormack showcases wisdoms about life, love, relationship, and self-relationship, that reverberate with truth. His take-home message, the one his mother gave him on her death-bed, is clear. Staring urgently into his eyes, she demanded: “Charlie. Have a good life. Have a good life,” refusing to break her hold upon him, until he finally committed, “I will mom, I will.”
Christine Tellis, MD

Essence is a captivating memoir about a man’s struggles to find his way after enduring a horrific childhood. Raised by a strict military man and his repressed wife, Charlie faces a long hard road that he hopes will take him to his place in the world, wherever that may be. His journey of self-discovery eventually leads him into the fields of psychology and clinical social work where he finds he belongs. Through his work not only does he help his many patients but himself as well.

Charlie is a phenomenal writer. Despite not wasting a single word nor tying up the flow with description and flowery phrases, his prose is gorgeous. He takes common words and puts them together in such a manner that his sentences glide and communicate in a style that to me is so elegant. An example: “The resulting feeling of abandonment and aloneness took root within me and, to some extent, remains to this day. Bunkered in the ashes of the years gone by, it still bursts into flame given an ill wind.”

As many of you who read my reviews know, I look for 4 things in books: I wish for characters I can connect with. I want to learn something. I like to be made to think. Finally, I need the “feels,” all of them. Essence hits the “quadrifecta” in terms of these desires and therefore easily earns 5 stars from me.

In regard to characterization, even though Charlie’s life has not been easy, I am impressed by the way he opens himself up to the readers. He lays it all out there—the good, the bad, and the ugly. I admire the way he throws himself into his work and his willingness to take chances. His ever-evolving efforts to understand himself and others in his life is laudable. It was quite a ride to sit shotgun on his journey to find himself—I was cheering him on the whole way.

What did I learn? I learned about the nature of psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, the inner workings of managed care (bastards!), how to survive and live life, and so much more. His pearls on life are invaluable. My favorites of all are those addressing the necessary components of an ideal interpersonal relationship.

And yes, I was motivated to think. Essence is one of the most inspirational pieces of work I have read. I found myself underlining passage after passage as there is so much I want to go back to and ponder. For example: “Life-changing shifts do not have to be epic. They can occur with a slight turn in perspective, a mere five words or three feet away.” I also enjoyed the numerous anecdotes and thought-provoking metaphors spread throughout the memoir.

I award an “A+” for all “the feels.” I felt anger, sadness, and compassion. But the last several chapters of the book are what really hit me in the heart. There were so many places where my throat constricted or I welled up with tears as Charlie tells us about the most important things he has discovered and experienced in his later years. I was deeply touched.

The ending is perfect, yet I wanted more. I hope we hear from Charles McCormack again. I believe Essence is an important book that deserves a wider readership. It was previously released in 2016 as “Hatching Charlie,” then later as “As Happy as I Can Stand.” Though it had superb ratings under those titles, the author elected to do a major overhaul of the memoir, and the results are impressive. I have just finished reading the new version as a beta reader, and I found very little to criticize even though I can be ruthless in that role when necessary. I highly recommend Essence to anyone interested in the essence of being human, the essence of life.

Many thanks to Charles McCormack for asking me to read his book. Thoughts and opinions are mine alone and are not biased in any way.