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The Suicide Index: Putting My Father's Death in Order

3.94  ·  Rating Details ·  895 Ratings  ·  168 Reviews

When you kill yourself, you kill every memory everyone has of you. You’re saying “I’m gone and you can’t even be sure who it is that’s gone, because you never knew me.”

Sixteen years ago, Joan Wickersham’s father shot himself in the head. The father she loved would never have killed himself, and yet he had. His death made a mystery of his entire life. Using an index—that

Paperback, 336 pages
Published June 23rd 2009 by Mariner Books (first published August 4th 2008)
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The Suicide Index: Putting My Father's Death in Order by Joan Wickersham is a well-written and often poignant account of Wickersham's father's suicide and its impact-or at least some of its manifold impacts-upon her.

Wickersham is a married mother when her 61-year-old father shoots himself. Wickersham spends the rest of this book-and beyond-trying to make some sense of this act and her own feelings about it. Was it foreseeable? preventable? is someone-her father, her mother, anyone-to blame or wa
Mar 25, 2009 stephanie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone.
oh, if i could give one book to people to considering suicide, this might be it. i would also give it to anyone considering writing a memoir. so. beautiful.

so much of this is brilliant - from the questions of how even to write the book, to the difference between a biographer and a memoirist, to the emotions on every page.

set up as an index, literally, the story can't stay chronological. you know her father died, and how, but then she leads us through the painful agony of surviving a suicide, e
Aug 15, 2009 Randy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

“In the airport, coming home from vacation, he stops at a kiosk and buys grapefruits, which he arranges to have sent to his daughters. They will stumble over the crates waiting on their porches, when they get home from his funeral.”

Thus opens this stark and haunting memoir, written in prose that surrounded me like clear clean water.

If the best books tell truth the best, then this memoir climbs to the top of the pile SUICIDE INDEX doesn’t necessarily tell universal truths, or even grand lofty tr
Mar 27, 2009 Pamela rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
How do you review a book on suicide? It's grim, it's sad, it's confusing . . . much like suicide. But having just experienced the death of a loved one by suicide, I found it comforting to read about someone else who understands the grief and all the other emotions that are associated with suicide. The author's idea to do an "index" is unique, but really works for this book. I found it comforting that trying to mentally reenact the person's last moments isn't some exercise in morbidity but a way ...more
Dec 06, 2009 Catherine rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir
This book caught my interest because of the arrangement in the form of an index. But the narrative turned out to be pretty linear, which made the "index" table of contents appear to be mostly a gimmick, and the narrative itself never got good enough for me to forgive the book for that.

Wickersham is writing about an issue--her father's suicide--that she has only partially worked through. A shorter piece might have been fine for that kind of unfinished emotional work, but a whole book is too long
Kathleen Maguire
This book sounded remotely interesting, but the index format, I think, would have been more powerful if it hadn't been so specific to this author's experience, ie, if the "headings" had been more pertinent to the general experience of a loved one's--even a parent's--suicide. Yes, I realize no two loved-ones' suicides are alike, but neither is any trauma. However, that doesn't stop people from writing books that generalize about it. Plus, this format didn't put anything in any kind of order excep ...more
Dec 09, 2010 Jess rated it it was amazing
As the title would indicate, this memoir is incredibly sad. The author is working through the suicide of her father which happened 15 years prior, but she (and consequently the reader) feel as raw as if it had happened the day before. The passage of time has only deepened the loss, and confounded her more completely. The writing is moving and organic; even "throw-away" lines are steeped in rich beauty and meaning. The organization of the text is original--an alphabetic index of subtopics of suic ...more
Ellen Keim
Jan 09, 2009 Ellen Keim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Instead of chapters, the author put an index at the front of the book. For instance: Suicide: act of, anger about, attitude toward. Not only is this different, it actually structures the book in a more realistic way than a chronological narrative would have. Reacting to a suicide doesn't happen all at once; it's spread out over years. And Joan Wickersham does an excellent job of showing how it stalks and grabs you when you're least expecting it.

This is a book about her father's suicide, the act
Abby Frucht
In its opening sections, the stylized writing and the rawness of the emotions worked beautifully together....but as the book went on I felt that the prose began to trump the emotion rather than the other way around. Maybe it just went on a little longer than it should have. I was reminded of a wise remark made by the writer Chris Noel in his bereavement memoir, In the Unlikely Event of a Water Landing, saying that some of the ways in which he experienced his grief over the loss of his fiancee we ...more
Jan 01, 2010 rachel rated it really liked it
"When you kill yourself, you kill every memory everyone has of you. You’re saying ’I’m gone and you can’t even be sure who it is that’s gone, because you never knew me.’"

Recently, I've become obsessed with missing persons cases, fascinated by the idea that someone could go missing or leave with only small traces of the person they were left behind. When I first picked this book up, I didn't quite grasp the connection between Wickersham's father's confirmed suicide and the concept of the missing
Sep 20, 2009 Visha rated it really liked it
"A crooked, looping, labyrinthine story" - a memoir of the impact of the writer's father's suicide. Searingly honest and unflinching examination by a mature writer with an original organizational twist (yep, structured by chapter, set like an index). Frank and compelling, both in tone and in subject matter.
Wickersham writes like a writer's writer (reminded me of Richard Yates in that respect). At first, I struggled through the first quarter of the book - not that it wasn't interesting, but it w
Mar 26, 2014 Meredith rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, memoir

I completely agree that this is a horrible title. But I suppose she wanted it to be blunt. And I put it down after the first page about five times, saying, "Nope, I'm not reading this." But very quickly, once I gave it a chance, it became her story, and so less uncomfortable. The moments of universal resonance - the moments that might tap into the reader's own very personal and potentially difficult thoughts about and experiences with suicide (and there ar
Nov 17, 2008 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
heartbreaking book written about 15 years after the author's father killed himself. She organizes it by topic, arranged in "Harper's index" form (e.g., "Suicide: attitude toward; mine"), which at first seemed a little stilted but grew on me. I ended up thinking it was much more readable this way than if she'd chosen to write a chronological bio of her Dad leading up to his tragic end.

Very insightful and thought-provoking on points such as how killing yourself kills everyone else's memories/scrip
May 10, 2009 Pamela rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very powerful book about the author's father's suicide seventeen years ago. There were no obvious signs her father was considering such an act, and he left no explanatory note. Wickersham has hit on a unique and perfectly apt form for this narrative--an alphabetized index with entries such as, "Suicide: act of: attempt to imagine." There is nothing gimmicky about this choice; it is completely true to the author's inability to create any rational order or sense out of her father's death. The be ...more
Jul 09, 2011 Katherine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A truly remarkable memoir. The organization of the stories - as an index - enables the author to explore deeply a huge range of emotions, experiences, and mysteries. I stumbled upon this book when I read that Joan Wickersham was teaching a course at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown where I go to write each summer. I immediately ordered the book from my home library to pick up when I returned. I'm normally an appallingly slow reader, but I could not wait to pick the book up in the mornin ...more
Feb 08, 2009 Jamie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was worried this would be morbid, depressing, and difficult to read. It's not. First of all, it's arranged as an index, which is kind of bizarre, creative, and a form that happens to work really well here. It's told in a very straight-forward, simple manner. It's an organizer's attempt at organizing what happened, and all the speculation, the history, and effect it had on her family. It is very sad, and it's also very thoughtful and beautiful. It's an exploration of grief and a process of heal ...more
Feb 14, 2009 Nette rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I read this immediately after "Blue Cotton Gown," a memoir I found a little too New Age and mooshy, and now I want to reread a chapter of that to dispel the chill that this one has left. I realize the whole point of the book was to coolly examine her father's suicide, but to me it came across as harsh, almost heartless. She'd write, "And then I cried" and it's like, "And then I cut my toenails." I also found it kind of creepy that the suicide occurred in 1991 and she's since milked it for six pu ...more
Jan 28, 2009 Diane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I selected this memoir from the 'new books' shelf in the library on an absolute whim. I have not been directly touched by suicide (although its specter exists within my family) and still I found this woman's personal story incredible moving. The index format seemed too precious on occasion but the book is very well-written overall. It's hard to deny the author's mordant intelligence and complete bravery in exposing all the ugly details of her father's suicide, her mother's neediness and the gene ...more
Mar 22, 2013 Lori rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's significant that I'm giving 5 stars to a book about such a tragic event, but it really was that good and so worth reading! The writing and ways the author presents her feelings and experiences were incredibly compelling and thought-provoking. The impact of this horrible act, the search for reasons, the rewinding of events to determine what drove her father to take his life kept me reading until the middle of the night.
Karen Brown
Oct 04, 2015 Karen Brown rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My reading lately involves multiple books laying about at various stages of progression, but sometimes I will begin a new one and read it straight through. This was one of those books--begun at 7:30 AM and finished at 1:00 PM. Still thinking about the way we are unknowable to each other; the way this book attests to that and still records a method of connection.
Feb 09, 2009 amber rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wickersham shares her ftaher's suicide with readers. As the first adult book i've read this year, i sure picked a depressing one. But it's a good one...I read a review and it had a quote from the book and i was hooked- "When you kill yourself, you kill every memory everyone has of you. You’re saying ’I’m gone and you can’t even be sure who it is that’s gone, because you never knew me.’"
What an incredible book! I could go on and on about it, but I won't. I highly recommend it to everyone, though -- the author's insights really moved me and gave me lots to think about. A book that will stick with me for a long time....
Mar 20, 2009 Carrie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As Wickersham asks and attempts to answer the questions surrounding her father's suicide, she also investigates a number of issues in her family's past. In doing so, she addresses larger questions of shared and secret family history and how we ever make our way through grief. Lovely and moving.
Jan 28, 2009 esmepie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
Can't believe I finished two books today that blew me away. This is the story of the author's quest to make sense of her father's suicide. Great writing--very lyrical and poetic in places, and also very funny with dark humor.
This book is a really good chronicle of the sort of obsession that can only happen when one is obsessed by finding answers to unanswerable questions. The index form works really well- a determined-but-futile attempt at making neat, orderly sense of a huge, messy thing.
Great book by a survivor. It doesn't offer any suggestions on how to cope with a suicide loss, but she does a great job of putting into words what it is like to lose someone this way by telling her own story of her struggles with "why".
Joanie Hornby Lippincott
This was really good and I really related to it. My father just did the same thing and it was exactly what I needed. I feel very fortunate to have been able to read it right after his death.
Mar 04, 2015 Alison rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Heart-wrenching & beautifully written.
Sharman Russell
Mar 14, 2015 Sharman Russell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is like talking to a smart literary friend about her father's suicide. And this is the strength and unique gift of creative nonfiction. These intimate conversations. What we learn.
John Vanderslice
I found this to be a deeply engaging and deeply stirring book. It's so frank in its exploration of this tragic and maddening phenomenon. The memoir starts out as an exploration that's aiming to find out WHY the author's father killed himself. And while the book goes pretty far down that road, what it eventually becomes--maybe because it's all it can be--is a revelation of the many ways, both broad and particular, that her father's violent death affected her and her family. (Not surprisingly, in ...more
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Joan Wickersham was born in New York City. She is the author of two previous books, most recently The Suicide Index, a National Book Award finalist. Her fiction has appeared in The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Nonrequired Reading. Her op-ed column appears regularly in The Boston Globe; she has published essays and reviews in the Los Angeles Times and the International Herald T ...more
More about Joan Wickersham...

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“And while some healing does happen, it isn't a healing of redemption or epiphany. It's more like the slow absorption of a bruise.” 16 likes
“The word "miss" is so wistful. As is the word "wistful," for that matter. They both have sighs embedded in them, that "iss" sound. Which also sounds like if.” 8 likes
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