More than a dozen essayists struggle with illness, death, loss, love, and survival.
Henry (Writing/Emerson Coll.) believes these writers can “speak for us all, expressing thoughts that lie too deep for tears.” Not many readers, however, will complete this collection dry-eyed, for it moves from descriptions of the deaths of loved ones to expressions of loss to considerations of what remains. Debra Spark chronicles her sister’s fierce battles with cancer, and playwright William Gibson—in one of the volume’s most powerful pieces—describes the death of his mother: “Before our eyes the miracle went out of my mother.” Tess Gallagher writes about the death of her husband, Raymond Carver, who “used his poetry to flush the tiger from hiding.” Rebecca McClanahan concludes: “Emptiness does not contain the power to fill us.” In her essay on miracles, Ann Hood (see below) tells about a desperate trip to New Mexico to find some sacred “healing dirt” that might save her father. Jamaica Kincaid, who lost her brother to AIDS, calls the disease “death with a small patch of life attached to it.” Employing a journal format, Gordon Livingston anguishes over the loss of his six-year-old son (“My own good health rebukes me,” he cries), and Jane Brox describes the moment of her father’s death (“His fire drowned in its own ash”). A grieving Cheryl Strayed turns temporarily to heroin, just as her mother had craved morphine near the end. Andre Dubus reminds us that “it is limiting to believe sacraments occur only in churches,” and Scott Russell Sanders finds solace in his father’s carpentry tools. James Alan McPherson’s near-death prompts him to begin a reconciliation with his estranged brother; Margot Livesey searches for her mother’s grave in Scotland; and the late Anatole Broyard recognizes that “in emergencies, we invent narratives.”
Powerful, wrenching, illuminating, and lovely.