Sunday, September 25, 2011

Death, Cataloged

I'm a big believer in judging a book by its cover! I browse the library's new arrivals all the time, looking for a catchy title, an author I've heard good things about, or a description that grabs me. The Suicide Index by Joan Wickersham was one that appealed to two very different sides of me: the one that loves catalogs (naturally, since I work at the library!), and the one that morbidly enjoys grief memoirs. In this National Book Award finalist, Wickersham crafts the stark, painful story of her father's suicide, organized in an index.

Wickersham's subject headings range from cold, clinical facts of who, what, when, where, and how, to ones more concerned with the question that can perhaps never be satisfactorily answered: why. Each heading, with its nested subheadings, almost resembles a free-verse poem:
"day after
brother's appearance, 48-53
concern that he will be viewed differently now, 54-55
"little room" discussion with his business partner, 56-58
search warrant, 59-60
speculation relating to bulge, 61-56"
The index itself could stand alone as a powerful work of art. However, each entry that it references is a separate piece of an insoluble puzzle. Every referenced section feels like a fragmented entry in a diary, brief essays that don't add up to an exhaustive whole.

If you're drawn to grief memoirs, but looking for something linear and analytical, you may prefer The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, or A Box of Darkness by Sally Rider Brady.


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