Friday, March 11, 2011

Strange Relation (2011)

by Rachel Hadas

In 2004 Hadas's husband, George Edwards, a composer and professor of music at Columbia University, was diagnosed with early-onset dementia at the age of sixty-one. Strange Relation is her account of "losing" George. Her narrative begins when George's illness can no longer be ignored, and ends in 2008 soon after his move to a dementia facility (when, after thirty years of marriage, she finds herself no longer living with her husband). Within the cloudy confines of those difficult years, years when reading and writing were an essential part of what kept her going, she "tried to keep track… tried to tell the truth."

NPR Interview with R. Hadas

Killing the Black Dog (1997)

by Les Murray

Killing the Black Dog is Les Murray’s courageous account of his struggle with depression, accompanied by poems specially selected by the author. Since the first edition appeared in 1997, hosts of readers have drawn insight from his account of the disease, its social effects and its origins in his family’s history.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Nemesis (2010)

by Phillip Roth

This is a lyrical, suspenseful evocation of the polio epidemic that raged in the U.S. Northeast during the summers of the 1940s. It captures the fear and paranoia that gripped the populace. Nemesis recalls Camus' The Plague, but to me is a more direct, impactful book. It focuses on the experience of being in and near the epidemic's eye. Perhaps, it's best to just read it without the benefit of reviews (so as to savor its tone and the story's development). However, if you want a review, here's a link to:

NY Times Review

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Tiger, Tiger

by Margaux Fraguso

From Amazon: "With lyricism and mesmerizing clarity, Margaux Fragoso has unflinchingly explored the darkest episodes of her life, helping us see how pedophiles work hidden away in the open to steal childhood. In writing Tiger, Tiger, she has healed herself of a wound that was fourteen years in the making. This extraordinary memoir is an unprecedented glimpse into the heart and mind of a monster; but more than this, it illustrates the power of memory and truth-telling to mend."

NY TImes Book Review March 6, 2011

This is from the Prologue "I started writing this book the summer after the death of Peter Curran, whom I met when I was seven and had a relationship with for fifteen years, right up until he committed suicide at the age of sixty-six.

"Hoping to make sense of what happened, I began drafting my life story. And even during times I haven’t worked on it, when it sat on a shelf in my closet, I felt its presence in the despair that comes precisely at two in the afternoon, which was the time Peter would pick me up and take me for rides; in the despair again at five p.m., when I would read to him, head on his chest; at seven p.m., when he would hold me; in the despair again at nine p.m., when we would go for our night ride, starting at Boulevard East in Weehawken, to River Road, down to the Royal Cliffs Diner, where I would buy a cup of coffee with precisely seven sugars and a lot of cream, and a bread pudding with whipped cream and raisins, or rice pudding if he wanted a change. When I came back, he’d turn the car (Granada or Cimarron or Escort or black Mazda) back to River Road, back to Boulevard East, and we’d head past the expensive Queen Anne, Victorian, and Gothic Revival houses, gazing beyond the Hudson River to the skyscrapers’ lights ignited like a thousand mirrors, where we would sometimes park and watch thunderstorms.

"In one of his suicide notes to me, Peter suggested that I write a memoir about our lives together, which was ironic. Our world had been permitted only by the secrecy surrounding it; had you taken away our lies and codes and looks and symbols and haunts, you would have taken everything; and had you done that when I was twenty or fifteen or twelve, I might have killed myself and then you wouldn’t get to look into this tiny island that existed only through its lies and codes and looks and symbols and haunts. All these secret things together built a supreme master key, and if you ask a locksmith whether there is a master key in existence that will open any lock in the world, he will tell you no, but you can make a key that will open all the locks in one particular building.

Humbert Humbert penned "Lolita," a novel. Margaux Franuso (a sad, real Lolita) composes a memoir. Life imitates art.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Long Goodbye

A Memoir
by Meghan O'Rourke

Essay about book by Ms. O'Rourke.

From Amazon: "What does it mean to mourn today, in a culture that has largely set aside rituals that acknowledge grief? After her mother died of cancer at the age of fifty-five, Meghan O'Rourke found that nothing had prepared her for the intensity of her sorrow. In the first anguished days, she began to create a record of her interior life as a mourner, trying to capture the paradox of grief-its monumental agony and microscopic intimacies-an endeavor that ultimately bloomed into a profound look at how caring for her mother during her illness changed and strengthened their bond.

O'Rourke's story is one of a life gone off the rails, of how watching her mother's illness-and separating from her husband-left her fundamentally altered. But it is also one of resilience, as she observes her family persevere even in the face of immeasurable loss.

With lyricism and unswerving candor, The Long Goodbye conveys the fleeting moments of joy that make up a life, and the way memory can lead us out of the jagged darkness of loss. Effortlessly blending research and reflection, the personal and the universal, it is not only an exceptional memoir, but a necessary one."

A Widow's Story

A Memoir
by Joyce Carol Oates

From Amazon: "Early one morning in February 2008, Oates drove her husband, Raymond Smith, to the Princeton Medical Center where he was admitted with pneumonia. There, he developed a virulent opportunistic infection and died just one week later. Suddenly and unexpectedly alone, Oates staggered through her days and nights trying desperately just to survive Smith's death and the terrifying loneliness that his death brought. In her typically probing fashion, Oates navigates her way through the choppy waters of widowhood, at first refusing to accept her new identity as a widow. She wonders if there is a perspective from which the widow's grief is sheer vanity, this pretense that one's loss is so very special that there has never been a loss quite like it. In the end, Oates finds meaning, much like many of Tolstoy's characters, in the small acts that make up and sustain ordinary life. When she finds an earring she thought she'd lost in a garbage can that raccoons have overturned, she reflects, "If I have lost the meaning of my life, and the love of my life, I might still find small treasured things amid the spilled and pilfered trash." At times overly self-conscious, Oates nevertheless shines a bright light in every corner in her soul-searing memoir of widowhood. (Feb.) "

NY Times Review.