This slim and swift-moving book is subtitled as "an elegy" rather than a
memoir. And in many ways it is one—written in memory of Harris, a close
friend of the author, who ended his life in 2008 after escaping from a
psychiatric hospital and throwing himself in front of a train.
Interestingly enough, we don't learn that much about Harris, save for
his genius for math, music, and soul-splitting jokes. For ten-odd pages,
you may think the book is, instead, about the author and her own brush
with insanity and mortality. That is, until you realize that what the
book is really about is grief—not describing grief, not explaining it,
but feeling it, from the anger to embarrassment to the searing ache.
"Nobody understands how I feel," we often think (mistakenly) in times of
loss. But Manguso not only understands, she can articulate it in the
precisest and most unexpected of images—an unrelated car accident, a
bowl of Italian candies, a swim in the ocean. What results is a memoir
that reveals not the just intimacies of the writer's life, but of your
own. Most moving is that The
covers a subject so rarely recognized in
our society, the grief from the death of a friend, (another notable
exception: Let's Take The Long Way Home
). "It doesn't
sound like much when I say my friend died. He wasn't my father or my son
or my husband," writes Manguso. "Yet there is a friend that sticketh
closer than a brother, says an Old Testament proverb."