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Crossing Fifty-One: Not Quite a Memoir

by Debbie Russell

A week before Christmas 1951, Dr. Ralph Russell risked everything to voluntarily enter a locked federal drug-treatment facility. He was fifty-one years old and a well-to-do family doctor and surgeon. Dr. Russell documented his four-month experience of living with fellow recovering addicts through a series of letters written to his family. Sixty-five years later, Dr. Russell’s granddaughter Debbie suffers a debilitating crisis of identity when her father is accepted into hospice. Despite being a successful criminal prosecutor, Debbie is also the daughter of a mother who rejected and shamed her at every pivotal point in her life. Debbie decides to start therapy—coincidentally, just two days before Christmas, also at age fifty-one. Desperate to learn everything she can about her father before he is gone, Debbie immerses herself in her grandfather’s letters. When therapy fails her, the grandfather Debbie never knew saves her, and she collaborates with her dying father one last time to make her biggest dream come true. Crossing Fifty-One pulls back the curtain on the internal struggles of midlife and provides a blueprint for redefining one’s self beyond the constraints of addiction and dysfunctional family dynamics.

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