Shared Emptiness

Rated 4.85/5 based on 13 reviews
A portrait of the harrowing despair and remarkable courage of a middle-class family tormented beyond endurance by a mindless act of violence.

Chris Carter, at 24, a medical student, had it all. Good looks, intelligence, a winning personality, a loving family. His girlfriend, Louise, was his dream girl, and he had everything ahead of him, everything to live for....

Until he was mugged.... More

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About John Brinling

Author Bio: John Brinling

I was born in Pittsburgh, Pa. on June 8, 1936. I grew up in Pittsburgh and didn’t leave home until I was 21 and heading off to graduate school at the University of Illinois in Chicago. I’ve attended multiple universities: Duquesne, U. of Illinois, U. of Pittsburgh, Columbia. And I have a B.S. in Pharmacy and an M.S. in Pharmacology. I was married in 1975 and have one daughter.

I have been writing all of my life. I wrote my first novel when I was sixteen. “Black Dawn.” It dealt with segregation and the KKK. Whatever happened to it I don’t know.
Since then, earning a living has preempted long periods of my life when I wrote very little. My wife and I are both in data processing (IT nowadays) and we usually work long hours when we are on a contract, which meant I spent little time writing fiction when gainfully employed. The birth of my daughter offered me another excuse for not writing, but that’s what it was: an excuse. Writing is hard. But it’s in my DNA and I keep returning to it, despite some part of me that prefers the lazy life. However, not writing is unthinkable, and I am constantly exploring ideas even when I’m not committing them to paper.
I lived and worked in Europe for seven years. I met my wife In Italy where we both worked for the same company, and were married in 1975. The contract we were working on ended that year and we took two years off to live in England, in a 300 year old farmhouse in Wiltshire. It was in that farmhouse that I wrote “The Ghost Of A Flea,” as well as another book titled “Quarantine,” which is a science fiction thriller.
“The Ghost” has a strong autobiographical component. I was a programmer/analyst. The office ambience in the novel is similar to life in my New York office, although the intrigues were of an entirely different nature. I had a good friend who lived in Sparta. I lived for a time near the George Washington Bridge. The building manager was an Irishman, who became a good friend, and an integral character in the book.
“Quarantine” is set in East Africa, where my wife and I vacationed, and I drew liberally on what we read, saw, and experienced.
I had an agent back then who marketed both books, and came very close to selling them to both Doubleday and St. Martins. Unfortunately he died before completing the sale and I put the books on a shelf and forgot about them for 35 years. Only this year did I resurrect them and publish them on Amazon’s Kindle and Smashwords.
In 1977, my wife and I returned to the states and founded our IT consulting firm, Brinling Associates. For the next fifteen years we worked hard building our business. I wrote one novel during that time, a book titled “Alone,” which dealt with a man in an irreversible coma who is aware of what is happening around him, but is unable to communicate with the real world. I thought the book was lost, but have just recently found a hardcopy of the book and have begun reworking it..
In 1990, during a down period in our business activities, I wrote several other novels which I am attempting to bring out of retirement. These novels were also put on the shelf when circumstances re-ignited our business opportunities. One book – “The Watcher,” an occult horror thriller – is already self-published. The other is a much larger work, a rural mystery series tentatively titled “The Valley Mysteries” set in Vermont, that I’m still working on.
As you can see, writing books is one thing, marketing quite another. I am perhaps the world’s worst marketer, which helps explain why my writings have spent most of their lives on a shelf in my home in Vermont staring out at me asking “Why am I here?”
For the past few years I have been writing screenplays, which are more bite-sized writing efforts. I have done fairly well in some contests, but am still waiting to be discovered. The small royalty checks I earned from Amazon this year are the only money I’ve ever earned from my fiction writing.
My writing is pure escapism. When I sit down to write, I embark on an adventure. I let things happen and I let the characters be who they are. Since I strongly avoid outlines, I am as surprised by events as I hope the reader is. Pulling together loose ends is a subject for revision, which I do endlessly. This undoubtedly makes for more work and takes me longer to “finish” something, but it seems to be the best, the only, way for me. It is the candy bar just out of reach that keeps me at the keyboard.
My background illustrates my chaotic approach to life. I have been at different stages a pharmacist, a pharmacologist, a tech writer, a programmer/analyst, a business consultant, a business owner, a teacher, a novelist and a screenwriter. At one time I thought it perfectly acceptable, if not desirable, to change jobs/professions every year or so. I didn’t worry about the future, assuming I would always find a way to muddle through.
I’m still muddling through.

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Review by: Books4Tomorrow Reviews on Aug. 23, 2012 :
I’m not quite sure what I expected from this book, but I got much more than I anticipated. The closer I got to the final chapter, the more I wanted the story not to end, because I got so wrapped up in the lives of the many different characters, their world became very real to me. This is one of those stories which takes the reader through every emotion conceivable. It even had me questioning some of my own views and opinions – not only on the matter of euthanasia, but also other topics that are touched on throughout the book, such as abortion, suicide, and extra-marital affairs, to name a few. One thing is certain though: other than “The Help” by author Kathryn Stockett, I’ve never before read a book that moved me as deeply as this one did.

I admire the way in which the author skillfully uses emotion and logic to emphatically tackle the controversial topic of euthanasia, and how deftly he provides insight into both sides of the argument for and against mercy death. The reader gets the perspective of the family, the Catholic Church, and the medical profession; each with conflicting views on a widely debated subject that not only is of consequence to the victim, but also to loved ones.

In no way did the author favor one view over the other and I was often left questioning my own views on this issue and feeling undecided as to what I would do if I was in the same situation and had to make such impossible decisions. Would I want to “live” in a vegetative comatose state for as long as my body held out, or would I want – for their sake and mine – my loved ones to pull the plug on the machine keeping me alive? If it is someone I love, would I let him “live” or would I be showing kindness by pushing the respirator’s “off” button? The answer seems simple, doesn’t it? But after reading this book and seeing it through the eyes of a mother, father, sister, girlfriend and other extended family members, doctors who’ve sworn an oath to let live, and a Church unfaltering in its dogma, the answer no longer seems so straightforward.

I applaud the author for the manner in which he brought both main and secondary characters to life by giving each their own back-story and having all of them facing unbridgeable obstacles, as well as their own personal demons. The families portrayed in this novel are dysfunctional in every sense of the word. I easily identified with their fears and daily struggles, and once I was halfway through the book, most of them had already crept snugly into my heart.

Written with emotional insight and compassion, it is clear that the author did in-depth research so as to be able to make the reader feel every emotion, as well as the hopelessness and uncertainty each character experienced. Although I’m giving this superb book a five star rating for a moving plot that oftentimes left me shaken and teary-eyed, it’s still in need of some editing. “Shared Emptiness” is a page-turner that will have a different reflective effect on every reader, leaving you with a multi-layered story and imperfect characters that won’t soon be forgotten.
(reviewed 9 months after purchase)
Review by: L. A. Wright on Feb. 9, 2012 :
Article first published as Book Review:Shared Emptiness by John Brinling on Blogcritics.

Living wills and euthanasia are often in the news. There are varying opinions, and with the advent of Dr. Kevorkian, many feel that they have a right to make their own decisions. The topic is sometimes quite controversial and often heated.

In Shared Emptiness by John Brinling we follow the life of a family who finds themselves in a situation where this might be something that becomes a part of their own conscious. Brinling has brought us a story full of love and laughter, family, church and even danger and drugs. The quotes from Helen Keller are poignant and to the point.

Christopher Carter is a young Medical student, the son of Vince and Frances Carter and the brother to Jeannie. His mother and sister belong to the church and his father has an addiction to gambling. In most respects they are like many other families. They have their strengths as well as their problems. Chris is dating a wonderful woman and is well respected. He makes friends easily and is often the center of attention. He is also very opinionated about medicine and that includes the very topic of end of life scenarios.

When he is the victim of foul play and severely injured causing possible brain trauma, all of his previous rants and challenges to his friends and family come into play. But Chris himself is no longer sure, his mind is strong. He struggles with communication, and through the series of some strange and horrifying circumstances he receives further damage. Unsure what is happening he is at the mercy of the physicians, his friends and his family? They are all questioning their own ethics and feelings and with the lack of communication available they have varying ideas of their beliefs. With so much controversy and soul searching, lives are changed forever, and the drama as it occurs is both thought provoking and quite chilling.

I am sure this book will strike chords with many, some due to the very nature of the issue, but others because we have all lost a loved one. It is the degrees that envelope you in this work, the unimaginable possibilities of having others make decisions, that affect who and what you believe in. This work is both chilling and resolute. The changing dynamics of the characters as they struggle with their own thoughts and personal demons is uncomfortable and painful. The settings were well written an take you to the places you are meant to see, and make you question your own thoughts and beliefs.
The topic of the work is so controversial that without the story behind it, I would have found it quite difficult to read. Brinling does a great job of humanizing the process, and yet keeps it true to form. The book is quite long, and yet I could not stop reading, looking to find a way to find the hope behind the horrors involved. Even the ending takes you into another twist that you do not see coming.

I would recommend this book to any who have been or know someone who has been through this harrowing situation. This happens every day to both young and old and makes you challenge the thoughts you carry. This would be a strong recommendation for a book club or reading group. The work is something you may want to discuss with others, the chill is hard to dispel. Brinling has brought forth a subject that is not comfortable, and put a new face on it.

This book was received as a free copy from the author. All opinions are my own based off my reading and understanding of the material.
(reviewed 10 months after purchase)
Review by: marian farago on Sep. 30, 2011 :
I can only agree with the other reviewers - good story, great characters, plus a theme that is still current and needs to be discussed. The surprise ending might not please everyone, but it certainly leaves one open-mouthed. Some of the characters are so well realized that they could be based on real people - maybe they are? This book needs to be promoted more, maybe published in paper form for a larger audience...
(reviewed 25 days after purchase)
Review by: Lisa Briggs on June 16, 2011 :
“Shared Emptiness,” by John Brinling shook my heart and my guts. I’ve never read a book quite like this and it is not one I’ll ever forget. From the beginning I found myself passionately engaged in the Carter family - Vince, Frannie, Jeannie and Chris. These were people I could have easily known. They seem familiar and I immediately felt comfortable with all of them. They could be my neighbors or acquaintances but one thing is for sure, they were easy to connect to because Brinling gives the reader some of their most intimate and private thoughts. He’s gifted at this. I love how the author puts me in close contact with each character’s darkest thoughts, worries, concerns and fears. Their vulnerability unravels me into a pool of compassion, understanding and gladness and then at the same time, because of some of the most unexpected, shocking things that happen in the book, I find myself horrified and have a pit in my stomach. But I love it! I can’t stop reading, I must find out what is going to happen to these people. Bringling threaded ongoing suspense throughout the book from the moment I was privileged to get inside the brain of one of my favorite characters, Chris, 24, who was in a coma. The story forces me to face and ponder some of the most mind-boggling, traumatic and cynical things that could happen to a family. I don’t dare tell you how things turn out but you’ll be fraught and tense with wanting to know. I’m not a nail-biter but I very well could have become one. Oh, and be prepared to be on edge of your seat as the story slides you into subjects you might normally want to avoid: faith, violence, rape medical malpractice, gambling, sexuality, euthanasia, marital issues, suicide, depression, lies, scandal and cover-up.

We are grateful to the author, John Brinling, who provided us a digital copy of his book, “Shared Emptiness,” through Smashwords, for us to review on our blog at:
(reviewed 30 days after purchase)
Review by: M Foland on June 16, 2011 :
Loved the book, it kept me reading wanting to see what happens next. It has such a surprising ending. It is a must read their is something in for everyone. Characters that everyone can relate to. Good Job.
(reviewed 37 days after purchase)
Review by: gloria marotta on June 10, 2011 :
This was my first read by John Brinling. Can't say enough about it! The characters are captivating, in that we can all relate to them in certain aspects of our own lives. John even throws in an unexpected twist at the end. This is a MUST read that will leave an impression on you long after you put it down! Thanks, John! Looking forward to reading your other works!
(reviewed 31 days after purchase)
Review by: sandigrn on June 7, 2011 :
Wow, this story is so relevant in 2011 as it would have been in the 1970's.
Have you ever doubted when to act on your gut feelings or leave it up to God on matter of merciful death & assisted suicide? If you have had those moments, this is a story for you. Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, it doesn't matter, the eternal question is always there in our hearts.
DO you wonder how the other person can "be" so happy and you aren't? The characters in this book will take you into their own personal thoughts and lives showing you the turmoil of the average "joe".
Then when you think the end is clear one more element is added that will grab you and make you rethink.
Excellent book, this was a first time read for this author and I will look at readingmore of his books!
(reviewed 28 days after purchase)
Review by: Alice W on June 6, 2011 :
A story of a family whose life seems pretty normal until tragedy strikes the one member of the family who has seemed to always keep them all together.
The struggle the family goes through with their own guilt, the church, their every day living, which has changed so dramatically overnight.
Every one has their own way of handling it, or at least they think they do, until things seems to get worse instead of better. That's when things seem to start crumbling piece by piece.
One by one, you get to know each member and friend involved and learn their secrets, their problems, their thoughts.
the priests do not agree and the church becomes very involved, not necessarily in a good way.
The author has done a fabulous job creating his characters and brings their personalites together and yet apart.
He shows us how each one of them has crutches and how they use them to try to 'deal with the situation'.
He gives you an ending you will not expect, coming out of left field as the story closes but yet seems so right and fitting so when you close the book, you can put your hand on it and say "This book was great".
It was my first book by John Brinling, but it will not be my last.
(reviewed 27 days after purchase)
Review by: Nelda Smith on June 4, 2011 :
Excellent book, well-written. Follows a family through hardship to a surprise ending.
(reviewed 22 days after purchase)
Review by: Becki Moody on June 1, 2011 :
The short summary above does not really do it justice. Yes, it is about how the family adjusts to Chris' traumatic attack that leaves him unable to communicate except by blinking his eyes, but it is much more than that. Basically, the author has set up a discussion about sanctity of life -- covering at some point in the story, euthanasia, abortion, and suicide. He explores these issues through each of the main characters: Frannie, unable to conceive of a life without her son; Vince, a gambling addict worried about the cost of treatment; Jeannie, the self-centered sister hiding her own secrets; Louise, Chris' girlfriend weighing obligation and desire; Father Norman, struggling with his own crisis of faith; Carol, the nurse who can't give up on Chris; Dr. Meredith, unable to admit defeat; Dr. Prendergast, who sees in Chris a way to further his own ambitions; and other members of the extended family who are all touched in some way by this crisis. Alternate chapters let the reader see Chris' point of view and mental state. There are no real answers here but it does raise important questions. Who does have the right to decide who lives and who dies? And how long can you hold out hope for a seriously ill patient? This novel gives a glimpse into how complex those questions can be.
(reviewed 22 days after purchase)
Review by: Nancy Eriksen on May 30, 2011 :
In a world of long lived Catholicism the choices are never easy. When the oldest son, the “Golden Boy” is terribly injured no one knows where to turn except the Church. The Church, as often happens; falls short. By a mile or two.
In Shared Emptiness, author John Brinling shows us both sides of the coin. The daughter, outshone on every level by her older brother, who clings to Mass as a life jacket. Mom who has grown up in the Church and feels herself damned for thinking of killing her only son. Dad who isn’t as strict on going to Mass (even if right across the street) but loves to play the horses and loves his family even if he does a piss-poor job of showing it. Then the aunts and uncles and cousins weigh in and they are as torn as the Carters. They have their own issues of pregnancies, dead children, unloved spouses and are getting no answers there, either.
Chris Carter somehow kept this whole group connected. He wasn’t a staunch Catholic, either’ but his grins and personality tied them all up in a nice, neat bow and delivered them to each other. When Chris is hurt and ultimately survives in a vegetative state; everyone at one time or another thinks of pulling his plug. Can one of them actually do it and face retribution from God? Can his agnostic fiancé get up the nerve to free herself from a lifetime of servitude?
This book brings to light many levels of compulsion from the Church, each other and our parents. Brinling has written a special novel and I do encourage all of you to read it. It’s a large story, but it needs to be to explain our needs and wants through the Carter family and its satellite characters.
(reviewed 22 days after purchase)
Review by: dag64 on May 30, 2011 :
As the other reviewers have said SHARED EMPTINESS is a very complex story, it covers alot of controversial subject matters that arise for this family and also for their extended family. We get to see that as with any family, there is alot more going on behind closed doors than meets the eye. Along with how this family is dealing with the trauma of what has happened to their son, you also see a perfect example of the butterfly/ripple effect, where one action sets off a chain reaction of events. There is also a twist that I didn't see coming. This story will stay with you long after you have read the last page, and it may make you look at things a little differently than you did prior to reading it.
(reviewed 5 days after purchase)
Review by: Myra Tallent on May 16, 2011 :
This is a story about a close knit family that is forced to face the unspeakable. It shows how strong a mother's love is. Family and friends are struggling with changes and how their worlds have been changed forever. Everyone's faith has been put to a test. It shows that we can do things we think we can not ever do. We can do whatever we have to just to survive if we just put our minds to it. Highly recommend reading this book!
(reviewed 6 days after purchase)
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