Diann Blakely's Reviews > History of a Suicide: My Sister's Unfinished Life

History of a Suicide by Jill Bialosky
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Oct 30, 11

As I have announced previously and even obnoxiously, I normally do not assign stars to books: instead, I try to post only reviews of the same quality I would in a high-caliber print or online journal. But of how many books can one say "here, read this, for it may save your life or someone else's at some point?

Louise Kaplan’s central argument in the remarkable and too-little known FEMALE PERVERSIONS is that women unleash violence upon themselves rather than others, and HISTORY OF A SUICIDE is the arguably the best update on this particular issue. Her wince-inducing, poetic memoir attempts to puzzle out the innumerable, gaping “Whys?” that were the bequest of her step-sister, Kim. Of particular note here is that Kim, whose diaries, poems, college essays, and closet contents represent left-behind clues that lead nowhere, which is too often the case, was involved in a sometimes abusive relationship before her self-asphyxiation in the family garage. The boyfriend killed himself five years later.

Bialosky’s book took twenty years to compose, and she brings a wealth of psychological research to the subject–-or one of them, for HISTORY OF A SUICIDE could just as easily be said to be the story of an American family and how its members simultaneously cling to the loves they have found but never, of course, remain truly unscarred by the losses which life has inflicted upon them. For the survivors left behind by suicides walk around with among the largest and most irreparable holes in their hearts we can imagine.

Bialosky, a distinguished editor, poet, novelist, and essayist, also brings a lifetime of reading to her memoir, a poetic assemblage whose characters range from blood-kin to Melville’s Ishmael to Plath’s eponymous “Daddy.” (See MULTIFORMALISMS, POSTMODERN POETICS OF FORM, edited by Annie Finch and Susan M. Schulz [Textos Books] for a surprisingly fresh, if more academic, take on this particular poem.) Yet HISTORY OF A SUICIDE might just as easily be said to have, as its dramatis personae, a multitude of aching, wound-like absences, though the grace and candor with which the memoir's author has managed to discuss this highly private subject in various features and interviews is additionally astonishing. For those wishing to learn more, or to understand more fully the actions of those they know who have taken their own lives, after reading HISTORY OF A SUICIDE, I have several recommendations to offer: http://nymag.com/daily/entertainment/..., http://www.cleveland.com/books/index...., http://chronicle.com/article/PoetrySu..., and last, in a highly serious turn by the English co-author of LIVE FAST, DIE YOUNG: MISADVENTURES IN ROCK & ROLL AMERICA, a recent piece from HUFFINGTON POST about the epidemic of suicide among young men in his native country and an organization called CALM, "Campaign Against Living Miserably," about which you may read more at http://www.thecalmzone.net.

As for Bialosky, I learned just today (30 October 2011) that her book has been named one of five finalists, out of five hundred entries for a "Books for a Better Life" award given annually by the Southern New York Chapter of the National MS Society (http://www.nationalmssociety.org/chap...) in the category of "Inspirational Memoir." There are many impressive names and titles, including THE LONG GOODBYE by Meghan O'Rourke, whose new book of poems, ONCE, is at my bedside this very moment and was edited and published by Bialosky herself, but fortunately, they are not having to compete against each other (!), so I can write with all truthfulness that I feel they are both profoundly deserving; having hoped at one point to review them together. THE LONG GOODBYE concerns a daughter's anguish over the slow death from colon cancer of her fifty-three-year old mother, and I have recommended it to many people as well, cancer, like suicide, robbing such a multitude of loves from our lives, and lives from those we love.

(a portion of this review was originally published as a section of "Crossings, Part Three," OPTION, 15 August 2011)

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