I read this book in two quick sittings. It gripped me in a way that I have not been gripped for quite some time. It appealed to me on several different levels. Firstly, the story itself is captivating. Deborah Masel is an excellent writer. She depicts her struggle with cancer with enormous clarity and honesty. She draws the reader into her journey in a way that does not inspire pity or sorrow but rather a joy for living and for experiencing all that life has to offer. Furthermore, her deep spiritual insights into life and death are so moving that parts of this book I had to read twice or three times in order to properly appreciate.
It would spoil this book for me to say much more. What you should know is that I have now searched elsewhere for Masel’s writing, wanting deeply to better understand her approach to living. And, even more telling, perhaps, this is a book that I will definitely look to reread at some point in the future.
So poignant was its message that Soul to Soul will stay with me for a long time to come.
“Before Kim ended her life, I thought, like most people, that someone who would take his or her own life was somehow different from the rest of us. I was wrong.”
This is how Bialosky begins her account of her “voyage to come to grips” with her sister’s suicide.
On one level, there is almost nothing more to say about this book. Its subject matter is so fraught, so intense, so complex, that trying to encapsulate it in the confines of a review like this cannot possibly do it even an iota of justice. Bialosky’s narrative is guilt ridden and twisted, the challenges of her sister’s suicide enmeshed with those challenges that confront her own life. She cannot separate one tragedy from the other and there is no point trying.
But, despite the sorrow and despair that lines the edges of these pages, Bialosky’s memoir is magnificently told. It is littered with references that expose the author as a fine literary afficionado. There are allusions to Styron, to Eliot and to Plath’s The Bell Jar. In trying to understand her sister’s action, Bialosky (I want to call her Jill!) journeys into the very heart of what makes people suicidal, she visits psychologists, reads everything written on the subject, crawls into the skin of her sister, pouring over her journal, retracing steps over and over and over again, seeking some sense, or perhaps just seeking absolution.
What makes this such a particularly beautiful book is that Bialosky knows that her sister’s “life and death have shaped us in profound ways”, she knows that her sister’s loss is a shadow over her life, “wrapped inside the tree that shades our yard” and that the dialogue she will have with her sister’s death “is never ending”. Ironically she writes: “In her death I was closer to her than I had been the few years before she died when she had kept a wedge between us so I would not catch sight of the troubled person she had become.”
So, while Bialosky spends almost the entire book exploring the reasons for her sister’s suicide and evaluating her own reactions to the event, what she has actually written is a love story, for “no one is truly dead when we go on loving them.” The compassion and grace with which she positions herself and her family in this book is testimony to her realisation that “the tragedy of suicide is that only in its aftermath does everything that came before suddenly seem important and dear.”
Quite simply one of the most beautiful, breath-taking books I think I have ever had the pleasure to read.
Posted in American Literature
Tagged Bailosky, Balsky, Bialsky, Biolsky, death, Disorders, Health, History of a Suicide, Jill Bialosky, Kim, Mental Health, Suicide
What I Loved was this book. No question, it’s one of my favourite for 2010. It was intense, emotional, exhausting, sublime and depressing. The writing – magnificent. The characters – realistic and resonating. The grief was so realistic and draining that at times I could only read a few pages before having to put the book down and digest the raw turmoil that the characters were enduring. Rather than giving anything more away, I thought that I would just leave you with a few of quotes from the novel which have stayed with me.
For me, I was taken in by this novel from its opening:
“Yesterday I found Violet’s letters to Bill. They were hidden between the pages of one of his books and came tumbling out and fell to the floor. I had known about the letters for years, but neither Bill nor Violet had ever told me what was in them. What they did tell me was that minutes after reading the fifth and last letter, Bill changed his mind about his marriage to Lucille, walked out the door of the building on Greene Street, and headed straight for Violet’s apartment in the East Village … When I put the letters down, I knew that I would start writing this book today.”
It is this paradigm that cloaks the novel and through its telling the background to this moment becomes painfully clear.
I won’t spoil the story, but a quote from later in the book sums up the intensity of the themes:
“equating horror with the inhuman has always struck me as convenient but fallacious, if only because I was born into a century that should have ended such talk for good. For me, the lamp became the sign not of the inhuman but of the all-too-human, the lapse or break that occurs in people when empathy is gone, when others aren’t a part of us anymore but are turned into things. There is genuine irony in the fact that my empathy for Mark vanished at the moment when I understood that he had not a shred of that quality in himself.”
This book gave me goosebumps. I am in awe of the magnificence of this prose and impressed by the fact that this author clearly expects her readers to savour every word of the text, to mull over each sentence and to revel in the grace of this novel… “what was unwritten then is inscribed into what I call myself. The longer I live, the more convinced I am that when I say ‘I’, I am really saying ‘we’…”
I will definitely be reading more of this author’s work!
Buy this book.
Read something fascinating about the author.