A memoir about writing through a devastating loss.
Years of work on a book, especially your first, make the day of publication a special occasion. You can’t put such effort into a project without feeling a deep satisfaction when it comes to fruition; some writers compare it to welcoming a new child. Starr’s (God of Love: A Guide to the Heart of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, 2012, etc.) first book, a translation of Dark Night of the Soul, came into the world in 2002 on the same day a police officer showed up to tell her that her daughter had died the night before in a car accident. The author understands that her spiritual journey can be best understood by setting the stage, introducing the players, and exploring the stories of the people she would turn to and rely on through the grief to come. As such, she writes about her convoluted upbringing. “The prevailing language of our extended family was sarcasm,” she writes, “and everyone seemed to have concluded that I was linguistically impaired. When my feelings were hurt (every few minutes, it seemed), that was because I had no sense of humor.” Surrounded by her family’s substance abuse and open relationships, Starr turned to Eastern spirituality early on. She worked as an assistant for famed spiritual teacher Ram Dass, but another spiritual guide took advantage of her adolescent innocence and tricked her into a sexual relationship, followed by a predictably degrading marriage. Starr takes a curious, almost journalistic approach to relating these events of her early years. There’s no sense of judgment of anybody who contributed to her tumultuous transition into adulthood. Also curious is the seeming disconnectedness of the first half of the book from the second half, but she brings them together toward the end, linking her spiritual travails to harrowing writing about her grief over her daughter.
Difficult reading at times, but the sometimes-scattershot nature of the book fits the chaotic nature of the author’s grief.