Swan’s debut memoir chronicles his life leading up to a near-death experience, the strange beauty of the experience itself and the changes in his life thereafter. During an angioplasty on Jan. 12, 2010, a rare blood clot formed around a stent in Swan’s heart, sending him into cardiac arrest and medical death. According to Swan’s elliptical prose, surgeons and family members claim to have witnessed a miracle: Against all odds and despite incredible blood loss, potentially problematic disinfection procedures and probable brain damage, Swan pulled through the surgery, returning to the world after a brief death. Doctors claimed “there must have been something inside [Swan] that made [him] want to survive.” Questioning whether divine intervention could occur and comparing his experience with Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Swan is careful not to rush too hastily toward explanations. He stitches his memoir together out of journal entries, passages from medical records and flashbacks as he lets the events speak for themselves, though he often includes associative metaphors or other tidbits to broaden his struggle’s context. Some of these inclusions feel like perfect interpolations, such as his invocation of the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion reassembling the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz; others seem barely relevant, such as details about mad cow disease and the problems it created with blood donation. Still, Swan’s most powerful writing occurs in his clear articulation of the state he entered as he died, and the memoir would suffer if it were to lose its Melville-ian ephemera, since the details about biology, the epigraphs and the clips of medical records all provide exciting stylistic shifts against some of the work’s drier biographical details.
Despite a lack of focus, these deeply human evocations never succumb to emotional or supernatural melodrama as they detail Swan’s brief afterlife and his grappling with death and its aftermath.