A chronic diarist discovers that there’s a lot to be said for putting your pen down.
There seems be a pattern with Manguso. The more weighty and personal her books get, dealing with everything from her own dread illness (Two Kinds of Decay: A Memoir, 2008) to a friend's suicide (The Guardians: An Elegy, 2012), the shorter they are. Her latest is remarkably brief, with more white space than print, devoted to the seemingly dull topic of why she quit her diary. But the brevity is the point: Where Manguso’s 25-year journal was obsessively detailed, this eulogy doesn’t have a wasted word. She’s a Proustian minimalist on the order of Lydia Davis, both in the way she distills complex thoughts on time and memory into pure essence and in how she examines writing as a means of control. “I didn’t want to lose anything,” Manguso states at the beginning. “That was my main problem. I couldn’t face the end of a day without a record of everything that had ever happened.” The diary eventually became a crutch for survival: “If I allowed myself to drift through undocumented time for more than a day, I’d be swept up, no longer able to remember the purpose of continuing.” Keeping a diary meant imposing a shape or structure on life, a view that changed when motherhood ruptured her own space-time continuum: “I used to exist against the continuity of time. Then I became the baby’s continuity, a background of ongoing time for him to live against.” While Manguso’s thoughts are inward, they work outward—from her life to life itself.
Read as either a meditative essay or a revealing confessional poem, this is a thoughtful, reflective look at one talented writer’s creative evolution.