An eloquent plea for a more humane approach to death and a moving meditation on the life that leads to that end.
Taylor (My Beautiful Enemy, 2014, etc.) was never a prolific novelist, but she makes every word count in this short memoir, published in her native Australia shortly before she died in the summer of 2016. “I’ve put off using my death as material for a long time, mainly because I couldn’t find the right tone,” she writes. “I’m not even sure I’ve found it now.” Despite that note of uncertainty, the author’s command of tone is masterful; her precise observance and unsentimental reflection take readers through the final stages of her fatal melanoma. It left her with so much gratitude at the richness of her life and significant regret over the loss of control a dying person experiences, given society’s tendency to want to prolong life as long as possible. There are three parts to the memoir. The first focuses on Taylor’s medical treatment, what led to it, and how she procured a drug from China that would allow her to commit suicide or to at least have that choice. The second encompasses the lives and deaths of her parents, whose marriage ended in tumult never resolved, and how the arrangements after those deaths intensified tension among the author and her siblings. There is a cautionary tale in this, a lesson she doesn’t want her own loving family to have to learn. The third section evokes the author’s childhood, what she remembers earliest and most vividly, and how life toward its end brings us full circle. “It’s often said that life is short,” she writes. “But life is also simultaneous, all of our experiences existing in time together, in the flesh.”
There is an ever expanding body of literature on coming to terms with mortality, and this entry ranks with the best.