Four Seasons of Loneliness: A Lawyer's Case Stories
by J. W. Freiberg
Philia Books, Ltd.

"I have an idea about writing a book some day about the social psychology of loneliness – how loneliness is what we sense when we lack adequate connections to others."

There are those rare books that come along with a subtle power to change lives after they are read. Freiberg’s book fits into this category. A former social psychology professor and lawyer, Freiberg threads together four distinct accounts of actual cases he worked on during his career into a thoroughly moving book. While all four of these stories are vastly different, they are equally captivating alone as they are together, linked by the key and principal theme of the book: loneliness.

Freiberg prefaces his book with surprising statistics about loneliness as he summons the reader through the prism of our own experiences, defining the differences between solitude and loneliness. He briefly explains his approach to and inspiration behind the book, admitting that his law career existed “in the trenches” that left him little hope for fame and fortune. Perhaps this is what enables Freiberg to appropriately examine, and at times fully understand, the human tragedies he presents here.

It begins with an unusual (and arguably the most fascinating) case involving two siblings—a brother and sister—who are removed from a sexually abusive home life. Their familial connection is severed even more after a singular moment that renders the brother into “the machinery of the Massachusetts Juvenile Justice System,” thus altering his life forever. Freiberg then shifts the narrative voice a bit in the second account to that of an MIT scholar who recounts his early life during the Chinese Revolution, regaling his fight against despair and depression to survive “the life-crushing force” of solitary confinement in Chinese prisons. In the third story, perhaps one of the saddest cases of the four, Frieberg retells the story of a self-educated, literate client and truck driver who is haunted by his role in a harrowing car accident that results in the death of a young woman. He closes out the four stories with a more personal case involving a professor whose devotion to the study of love and last wishes is nearly disrupted entirely by an unfortunate legal quagmire.

Gold winner of the 2017 Independent Publisher Book Awards, Freiberg’s beautifully bound nonfiction book reads at times like a gripping legal thriller. While he pursues the subject matter energetically, he isn’t, nor does he ever intend or set out to be, the next John Grisham or Scott Turow. What he does, though, is meticulously detail the transformative events and circumstances that affect each of his main subjects in profound ways. His life-long interests and background in social psychology afford Freiberg the ability to transcend his legal training, giving him the skillful eye to observe his subjects under the framework of their respective case studies. He enthusiastically aims to unlock doors and seek deeply buried answers (either for personal reasons or for the reader or both) while expressing sincerity and admiration for his subject’s ability to face and even survive against insurmountable odds.

Each of the four stories selected is no doubt despairing in every way possible, and collectively they make for a depressing read. This is saved, however, in part by Freiberg himself, who with a storytelling prowess, demonstrates an earnestness of the subject matter as both witness and participant in the calamitous situations that unfold. He manages to breathe life into the people he portrays, highlighting the idiosyncrasies that make them, including himself, emerge as realistic as ever from the page as if they were standing in the room with you. For example, one will not forget and even come to love the “sharp as a tack” New Jersey trial attorney turned insurance claim agent, Rhonda Wilkins.

Freiberg writes in a nearly flawless style and prose that is at once engaging and accessible, adding credence to the compelling narratives he depicts. He aptly holds your attention throughout, enthralling you as you devour each passage, and in reading it becomes clear how much these cases impacted Freiberg. He posits how “loneliness is not emotion, but a sensation,” and with this book he invites us to join him in exploring its significance, chronicling the varied sensations of loneliness that are conveyed by his subjects as he implores us with the ever-increasing need for connectivity in this world. The few times in the book he interjects his own personal recollections (such as that of his three-year-old son playing beneath his feet by the crackling fire as he reads the file about the sexually abused siblings) are striking, giving insight to his association with those he strives to help. He sets us squarely into the action and paints vivid images, especially the Bostonian landscape where he lives and works and where it is evident he thrives most among his academic colleagues and the university.

The book’s eloquent title is referenced by Freiberg as he explains the meaning of the seasons assigned according to each story. Spring is for “the loneliest boy I have ever known,” and summer is for the man who spent “the summer of his life” confined in prison; autumn is for “a man who created his own unendurable isolation,” while winter is for the bachelor professor who knew “more about love than anyone else I’ve ever met.” The author’s book is a page-turner and a marvelous read, one as marvelous as any piece of fiction writing out there. It’s the kind of book that once you finish you will quickly hand it off to another family member or friend and say to them: "Read this."

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Return to USR Home