A SLENDER THREAD by Diane Ackerman
Kirkus Star


Rediscovering Hope At The Heart Of Crisis
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From Ackerman (Rarest of the Rare, 1995, etc.) come these graceful, canny reflections on her hours spent fielding calls at a suicide prevention center. During "the long corridors of night, when problems can take on monstrous proportions," Ackerman sits in an ordinary room taking all-but-ordinary calls. Her phonemates are people on the raggedy edge, with voices of rising panic, rage, frustration, distant loneliness, but possessed of a precarious, tenuous hope that prompts them to telephone. She isn't a therapist, she isn't there to "[pick] problems apart and [make] sense of their origins and patterns." She is there to search for equilibrium, to be a friend for the duration, to examine options, to find windows and doors in a tunnel. She explores the degree of desperation in a caller's voice (imminent danger of suicide? a depression that may slacken?), knowing that "we hope our callers will choose life, but they have the option and the right to choose death." Nonetheless, she'll alert the police and call for a phone trace if things spin out of control. Ackerman's voracious imagination and curiosity find her making forays into biochemistry and the artistic temperament, the weather and Walt Whitman, bicycling and skiing, bringing them all to bear on her shifts at the crisis center. And it is not surprising that, as a writer of luminous essays on natural history, she is able to convincingly free-associate between the emotional geography of animals (a group of squirrels she is studying for a project) and humans, and compare her telephone work to the long-distance communication of whales, wolves, and birds. One could do a lot worse than to find Ackerman at the end of the line when feeling those desperately slippery moments of despair, the rush into the unknown.
Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0679771336
Page count: 324pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1996

Kirkus Interview
Diane Ackerman
author of THE HUMAN AGE
September 8, 2014

Diane Ackerman is a poet who happens to write about science. Her latest book, The Human Age, is about the unprecedented fact that the human race is now the single dominant force of change on the planet. Humans have “subdued about 75 percent of the land surface, concocted a wizardry of industrial and medical marvels, strung lights all across the darkness.” Ackerman acknowledges the chaos humans have caused to the environment and yet she is still “enormously hopeful,” as she writes in the book, about how positive our interaction with Earth can be. We ask Ackerman about a few little things in this Kirkus TV interview: nature, evolution, humanity. View video >


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