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

The Suicide Index by Joan Wickersham
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Jun 08, 2011

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Read from November 22 to 25, 2011

One morning, the author’s father woke up, got dressed, shaved, and shot himself. This is the story of the mess he left behind.

While The Suicide Index is not the transcendent work others have made it out to be, kernels of brilliance shine through the rough. The author is at her best when she steps away from the hand wringing stress of daily life and actually puts herself into the mind of her father—or more generally, a suicidal person. All of the talk of “How could he do this to us?”…well, he’s not thinking of you. When you are being battered by waves in a stormy sea, your closest family members are as remote as tiny figures waving from the beach. It comes to the point in which the most important and reassuring thought is just which caliber and what angle. When the author realizes this, that her father probably did not kill himself to punish his friends and family, is when her writing reaches its forte.

Other reactions, however, were not as clear-headed.

The author’s fourth-grade son, during the course of the book had a school art project in which he had to create a Greek-style god or goddess. When she saw his gun-toting “God of Weapons,” she was horrified:

I said, “I’m curious. What made you think of doing a weapons god?”

“I just wanted to,” he said, frozen half on and half off his seat, with his feet on the rungs of the stool.
“Was it because you’re interested in military history?” I asked, and he shrugged again.
“Because you know, don’t you, that guns hurt people,” I said. “They kill people.”
A sly, exasperated smile crossed his face. He looked at me and said, coldly, “Well, I think they’re interesting.”
I took a breath, and felt words rising and ripping out of me. “What do you mean, interesting? Don’t you get it? Don’t you get what guns do? They blow people apart, that’s what. Your grandfather picked up a gun and blew a hole in his brain. That’s what guns do.”
My son’s face was stiff, terrified. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.

Ok, let’s hit the pause button here. If the author’s father had taken his life by asphyxiating himself in his garage or intentionally crashing his vehicle into a tree, would she rebuke her son for drawing a picture of a car? Although she realizes her reaction is overly harsh and quickly apologizes, the firearms hate is a little much. Those who wish to end their lives will find a way to do it, gun or no gun. You can respect that truth, even if you yourself have never tasted bluing.

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