by Harold Brodkey ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 1, 1996
With remarkable grace and stunning bravery, Brodkey (The Runaway Soul, 1991, etc.) chronicles his own harrowing slide into illness and death. At first glance it seems an obvious--and cruel--irony that recording the ""passage into nonexistence"" should fall to a writer whose lifework was so vibrantly obsessed with chronicling the self. Yet it's difficult to imagine a writer better equipped to accomplish that grim task than Brodkey, whose restless intellect and elegant, precise language bestowed an almost physical beauty on the abstraction of human consciousness. From the time he was diagnosed with AIDS, while editing his novel Profane Friendship in the spring of 1993, until his death earlier this year, continuing to write--to convey order on formlessness--seems to have been not only an anodyne but a constant, sustaining desire for Brodkey. This book, portions of which appeared in the New Yorker, is many things: a journal that catalogs the daily indignities (the countless pills, the loss of strength and independence, the vagaries of public perception) attendant on AIDS; a memoir poignant with self-doubt and regret; a calm meditation on (and preparation for) death. For all his prickly combativeness and wounded vanity, Brodkey doesn't rage at the dying of the light. He saves his greatest bitterness and vituperation not for death, but for certain elements of New York life, especially for the city's ""literary empire-builders and . . . masters of fakery."" Yet throughout his illness he remains devoted to the city, to his wife, Ellen Schwamm, whose ministrations and love are of immense importance and comfort to him, and ultimately to himself and his work. ""If I had to give up what I've written in order to be clear of this disease,"" he declares near the end, ""I wouldn't do it."" Deeply affecting--a haunted, haunting work that penetrates with starling directness to the very core of the human mysteries: how to live, how to die.
Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1996
Page Count: 192
Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1996
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