SEPARATE PATHS: Why People End Their Lives by Linnea with Ruth Purtilo Pearson

SEPARATE PATHS: Why People End Their Lives

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A dialogue and commentary on suicide which attempts to reconsider its meaning in a modern Christian society. The unusual format takes some explaining. Rosa, 29, a student at Berkeley, and Christine, a few years older, teaching in Cambridge, began a correspondence when Sara, a mutual friend, killed herself. They console each other, and their correspondence turns into an exchange of ideas on suicide--the meaning of Sara's action and the ramifications of more famous cases (Hemingway, Marilyn Monroe, a self-immolating Buddhist monk, the aging Van Dusens of Union Theological Seminary). Rosa becomes involved in a Suicide Prevention Center, both read and quote modern writers as they pursue the subject, and both confess to suicidal feelings in the past--at the loss of a lover or husband (also an element in Sara's decision). After each letter and response, Pearson and Purtilo (whose connection to the letter-writers is vague) comment on the two somewhat different attitudes. The hybrid form is peculiar, artificial, hardly ideal as exposition, but the cumulative effect is surprising: one sees the stages in their grief for Sara, a coming to terms with their own uncertainties--suicide can be an act of witness--and resolutions, months later, to move on. Although they do cover much significant territory, the arrangement is awkward, and the overall impact is inferior to Alvarez' The Savage God with its steady authority, larger compass, and literary freight.

Pub Date: Nov. 30th, 1977
Publisher: Harper & Row