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The Guardians: An Elegy for a Friend

3.85 of 5 stars 3.85  ·  rating details  ·  340 ratings  ·  57 reviews

The Guardians opens with a story from the July 24, 2008, edition of the Riverdale Press that begins, “An unidentified white man was struck and instantly killed by a Metro-North train last night as it pulled into the station on West 254th Street.” Sarah Manguso writes: “The train’s engineer told the police that the man was alone and that he jumped. The police officers pu

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ebook, 128 pages
Published February 28th 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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anaïs
You know how I feel about Sarah Manguso. Beautiful spare prose about losing a friend to tragedy. About loving people and meeting new people and loving them and time and grief and dybbuks and how no one can observe the colour of your grief but you. Beautiful and important.
Kasey Jueds
I found this beautifully written, and very, very moving.

The subject is the suicide of one of the author's closest friends... but as with almost all books I love, it's about much more: the meaning of family and relationship and marriage and friendship, and how slippery and undefinable, finally, those things are; grief and mourning and how undefinable they are, as well; how we try to understand our lives, and how impossible it is to do that, and the necessity of continuing to try.

The Guardians is
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christa
The thing with death is that the solution key to so many mysteries, including the final whys and hows and “what does that feel like,” all get buried with the body. In the case of Harris, the inspiration for Sarah Manguso’s elegy “The Guardians,” there are an additional 10 hours worth of mysteries that occurred between when her friend left the hospital without money, a phone or identification, and when he tossed his own body in front of a train.

Manguso met Harris in college and was good enough f
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Michelle
Beautifully written mini-memoir about a suicide (a close friend of the author left a mental institution and killed himself before the day was out). I was not surprised to find this writer is a poet. Her feelings, conflicted and straight-up, are palpable. “I tell everyone I know that my friend threw himself under a train.” It’s a simple fact yet conveys so much. She also touches a bit on 9/11 and there are some parallels between the grief felt that day on a massive level and her own, more localiz ...more
Sian Lile-Pastore
i thought this was so beautifully written.
it's about the death of Harris, a friend of the author, and even though it's a slight book, it also covers depression, intimacy, suicide, belonging, writing and 9/11.

it's a sad book about losing a friend 'It doesn't sound like much when I say my friend died. He wasn't my father or my son or my husband.'

I like how Manguso writes about grief:
'I can't measure my grief and I can't show anyone what color it is. I can offer testimony that others can reject or
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Erica Freeman
This elegy is about many topics, gives voice to many registers. Speaking from my position as a doctoral student in clinical psychology, I was especially moved by Manguso's occasional reflections on the ways we as a society (and as a profession, we psychologists) understand, categorize, and manage mental illness. I admire and appreciate Manguso's fine job problematizing oversimplified distinctions between, e.g., sane and insane, reality and fiction / story, even as she moves through the deep wate ...more
Peter Rock
Such a sad and compassionate and intelligent book. I'm really taken with her unsparing way.
Jennifer
Manguso, a fighter for the perfect and tiny and tight prose, is whirlwind of encouragement to work and always work and push to perfect writing. Having been to a craft talk and reading of hers, speaking to her of my own struggles as a writer, I look back on this book as an example of what I want my work to someday be compared to. I want my trials and tribulations worded so poignantly and clearly. I want someone to one day ask me, "How did you do it?" just as I did to Manguso.

She writes of her su
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Mary
I really liked this despite some of the affectations that began to grate on my nerves, e.g. "The man who was not yet my husband..." After the fourth or fifth repetition of this, I just really wanted her to say his name or something. I like Sarah Manguso a lot, though. And I like the idea of writing an elegy for a friend. I would recommend this.
Rui Carlos da Cunha
Just finished this amazingly lyrical, simply elegant elegy / memoir about the death of her friend by suicide. I'm nearly as impressed by this book as by her other memoir, Two Kinds of Decay, which I loved from start to finish

Having lost a friend to suicide, it is nearly impossible to articulate the emotional tsunami that passes in waves through my body.

If I could write even a simple 14-line sonnet as clear-minded and distinctly focused as Sarah Manguso's book about the loss of her friend, I may
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Mark
A heartfelt meditation on the loss of a friend to suicide, the frustrations of modern psychiatry, and the author's own struggles with mental health. Honestly, I'm finding it hard to express my opinion of this book. The story Sarah Manguso tells is so intensely personal that to say anything about it other than, "I thought it was very good," seems almost rude, as if to pass judgment on it in any way would be to pass judgment on the author herself. So I'll say this: I found her way with words engag ...more
Rebecca Foster
In 2008 Manguso’s friend Harris, newly released from a mental hospital, jumped in front of a New York subway train. The previous ten hours, after a nurse opened the door for him, are unaccounted for. Manguso has come to believe that he was suffering from akathisia, a sort of unbearable all-over pins-and-needles feeling that makes people want to jump out of their skin (or jump out a window, or in front of a train, or commit a brutal murder). She had experienced a mild form of it after taking an a ...more
Vivek Tejuja


One of the most difficult things to write about is the death of a loved one and how it completely changes you, or at least most parts of you. Death, being the common factor to our lives, since we have all lost someone special and dear to it, is almost something that doesn’t let go. The loss is felt at various times and places and to document that to me is a work of remarkable restraint and courage. “The Guardians” by Sarah Manguso is one such book. After reading, “The Year of Magical Thinking” b
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Owen
"I want to set aside every expectation of how I should feel or act given that my friend had a bad death, and try to explain what has actually happened to me—if, in fact, anything has actually happened to me." (p. 86)

This brief book is Manguso's attempt to make sense of the death of her close friend Harris. When she had been out of the country and hadn't seen him for a year, he escaped from a psychiatric hospital and threw himself in front of a train. But the Harris she knew had not been troubled
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Erica
This book is only around 100 pages long, and I didn't manage to finish it. It's a series of remembrances and feelings around a friend who died a few years earlier; a friend who stepped in front of a train. She states earlier on that she hadn't intended to write about his death for a decade or so, but ended up doing it a lot sooner. I think she's trying to say that the writing gods wanted her to do it now, giving her book some weight. But this book may have been significantly better had she waite ...more
Sara
Dec 31, 2012 Sara rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who need to mourn
Recommended to Sara by: The Millions (blog)
If there you are mourning -- or need to mourn -- this is a brief but suitable companion.

Two sensations dominate this prose elegy: grief, obviously, and much less obviously, akathisia, a dauntingly abstract state of "torment, restlessness, pulling or drawing or twisting sensation." Akathisia is a known side effect of a range of anti-psychotic drugs, such as the one the narrator's dead friend was given the same day he jumped in front of a moving train. The narrator believes that it was akathisia t
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Shin Yu
This book was reminiscent of Megan O'Rourke's "The Long Goodbye" - both are books that encompass the death of a loved one and dealing with that loss, but was less effective in that the loved one in Manguso's book - Harris Wulfner - remains undeveloped and distant as a character. It is hard to get a grip on the depth of the narrator's unrequited love for a man who's penis is "legendary" - though nothing ever happens between the two friends. The beloved is elegized and remembered, commemorated, bu ...more
Celeste
V. quiet and beautiful. Not as sparse as The Two Kinds of Decay (one of my favorite pieces of non-fiction ever), partly because it's longer and partly because the book is formatted with less white space, which, despite my best efforts, made me speed up as I read. There is so much pain in this book--her friend's suicide, her own illness struggles, 9/11, etc.--but there is so much lightness, as well. I admire Manguso's refusal to place herself at the center of it all but, rather, to grieve long an ...more
Grace Roulet
On the surface this is a look into the personal mourning process of a woman who lost a dear friend. However, deep down Manguso leaves the reader with a new knowledge of psychosis, loss, and love both in her own life and in the readers'. Incredibly quick read because I could not put it down. 100% recommend.
Darryl
This was a mercifully short elegy to a dear friend of the author, who checked himself out of a mental hospital in NYC and committed suicide by stepping in front of a Metro North train in Riverdale roughly 10 hours later. I enjoyed Manguso's earlier book The Two Kinds of Decay, a memoir about her own illness, but this short book came across as little more than a self absorbed form of written diarrhea by a spoiled rich girl about the effect that Harris's death had on her, which I found to be macab ...more
zespri
A man is struck by a train and killed instantly. To a newspaper reader just another senseless death, but to a friend, a devastating end to a long friendship. Sarah Manguso describes her grief in this book, beautifully, if one can say that about grief.

Kimberly Novosel
My only complaint about this book is that it wasn't longer. It's not quite novel length but is a little longer than a short story. The writing is stunning. Sarah Manguso writes about grief in a way that its mysterious to her and yet familiar to you. You almost want to ask her to coffee just to say to her, "I understand." The book isn't so much an homage to her lost friend as it is the exploration of the feelings that follow loss, the memories that sharpen, the clarity of understanding that fades ...more
Joshua
"All great friends are alike. You are not bound to them by anything but love."
Lauren Gail
A truly beautiful and heart wrecking book.
Elizabeth Stark
I loved this book. Beautiful.
T. Greenwood
I think the timing of my reading of this (on the heels of Ann Patchett's Truth and Beauty) was serendipitous. Both are elegies for lost friends, both love stories (of sorts) as well. Just what I need to read right now as I revise (and revise and revise) my own fictional elegy.

This reads like a prayer. There is something almost ritualistic about the cycling ruminations on her friend, Harris' suicide, on mental illness (his and her own), and grief. The writing is beautiful, a poet's.

Lovely, lovely
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Pat
Such a disappointment after reading that this was one of the best 2012 books! It is an rambling elegy for a mentally ill friend who throws himself in front of a train written by his mentally ill friend - again, disappointing. I did learn a new word - akathisia, which is a side effect of some psycho drugs that can lead the mentally ill to commit suicide or even murder when they are trying to get out of their own skin.
Drani
A spare and erudite elegy to a dead friend. The author's grief comes through loud and clear, in restless, choppy pieces that made the experience feel like a stolen look at her journal. There were some sections of the book in which I felt like I was submerged along with her in the story, but mostly the quick dips left me disconnected from her narrative.
Sue
Not as thought-provoking at Two Kinds of Decay. I do want to read Ongoingness: The End of a Diary.
Kristen
Incredible book about the author's loss of a friend to suicide. Beautifully written, simple and poignant, it engages the intellect as much as it does one's compassion.
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Sarah Manguso (b. 1974) is an American writer and poet. In 2007, she was awarded the Joseph Brodsky Rome Prize Fellowship in literature by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her memoir The Two Kinds of Decay (2008), was reviewed by the New York Times Sunday Book Review and named a 2008 "Best Nonfiction Book of the Year" by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Her poems and prose have appeared in The
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More about Sarah Manguso...
The Two Kinds of Decay Ongoingness: The End of a Diary The Captain Lands in Paradise Siste Viator Hard to Admit, Harder to Escape

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