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An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  5,518 ratings  ·  914 reviews
"This is the happiest story in the world with the saddest ending," writes Elizabeth McCracken in her powerful, inspiring memoir. A prize-winning, successful novelist in her 30s, McCracken was happy to be an itinerant writer and self-proclaimed spinster. But suddenly she fell in love, got married, and two years ago was living in a remote part of France, working on her novel ...more
Hardcover, 186 pages
Published September 10th 2008 by Little Brown and Company
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Kristine It's not so much that it 'won't make sense' as it won't hit home for that person the same way it would for someone who has lost a child. (That said, I…moreIt's not so much that it 'won't make sense' as it won't hit home for that person the same way it would for someone who has lost a child. (That said, I guess all books hit each person differently for different reasons). After the loss of my one day old daughter, everyone kept giving me books to read (mostly on surviving loss). None helped. This is the first (and really only) book that really spoke to me and let me know that I wasn't alone and that there is a light at the end of the long tunnel of grief. That was 7 years ago. I still think back to the positive surge of emotion from this book and am thankful I found it.(less)

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Maggie Stiefvater
Dec 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: recommended, adult, memoir
I think Elizabeth McCracken must be a gritty sort of person.

I don't mean gritty as in eyeliner and dark poetry, mean streets and minor chords. I mean gritty in the sense of another book I've been reading lately, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, about stick-to-it-ness. Supposedly grit is the greatest predictor of future success, even more than education, resources, intellect, etc. And I think McCracken must be gritty. Emotionally gritty. Resilient.

I go on like this because this memoi
When she was a teenager in Boston, McCracken was approached by a panhandler with a card reading I AM DEAF. She sympathizes with this tacit approach, thinking “surely when tragedy has struck you dumb, you should be given a stack of cards that explain it for you...This book, I am just thinking now, is that card” – a way of telling the world My first child was stillborn.

McCracken and her husband, a fellow writer and professor, had sojourned in Berlin, Ireland and England before settling into a rams
Mar 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
It's so hard to find the right words to describe this beautifully written poignant book. It sat on my to-read list for about a year and I put off reading it in large part because I became pregnant with my first child shortly after adding it to my list. (I didn't want to freak myself out) Then, when I lost my baby 4 days before his due date, it became an urgency to get my hands on it as if I could somehow procure the answers to my own situation by simply reading a book. I checked it out from a li ...more
Apr 04, 2009 rated it really liked it
I read this book on a recommendation of a friend who is familiar with the fact that I have gone through a similar experience in my own life. I, too, have delivered a stillborn son. What is ironic is that I had ordered this book off of Amazon, and it was delivered (and I started reading it) the day before the anniversary of my son's birth/death. I think the author did a wonderful job of putting her grief into words. I related to so many things that she said, felt, and did. My heart was breaking f ...more
Dec 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
A hard book to comment on, but I will say that I read it in one night/morning, as I suspect most people do who pick it up. Also: I would like to take all my lessons in how to handle maternal grief and anxiety (when/if I experience it) from a three-headed oracle of Rachel Zucker, Joan Didion, and Elizabeth McCracken. The three of them should replace Hallmark permanently.
Jun 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I was surprised to see AN EXACT REPLICA... compared by a reviewer to THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING by Joan Didion: I can't think of two books which approach the same subject matter (the death of a loved one) more differently. Where Didion is most essentially writing about her own death--at least, the end of her family and context and relevance and time--McCracken is talking about trauma, a personal shame. Death is a whole different matter for old people than it is for young people.

Which probably
Dec 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
A thin, beautiful, sad - but defiant - book about the loss of a baby. It begins with the flat warning: "Someone dies in this book. A baby." McCracken married her British husband in her late thirties and was thrilled to be living together in Bordeaux and pregnant with their first child (nicknamed Pudding.) Amidst the knocking on wood, the name games, and the well-wishes of friends and strangers, something goes very wrong and Pudding dies before birth. The book is written with a son finally born o ...more
Jan 22, 2011 rated it it was ok
I am not a curmudgeon. I have several living children. As a man, anatomical constraints have established that none has been carried in my womb or delivered through my loins. I have never lost a child; I hope that I never do.

That being stated, writing about a devastatingly sad subject in a lyrical, emotionally honest, heartfelt, warm, sad, funny manner may make a great subject, and may elicit sympathy and empathy (those not being bad things at all), but does not necessarily make a great book. I a
Mar 09, 2011 rated it did not like it
I recently had a son who was stillborn and I read this book on the recommendation of others. I did not feel that I could relate to the author very well. Maybe my grief is still too new? I'm just not processing things the way she did and neither of us is wrong. We are different people, of course we will grieve differently. I think I was just hoping for more of a sense of someone else getting it. I cannot imagine chosing not to have pictures or to not hold him. For me, I wanted it all. As much tim ...more
Deanna Roy
Mar 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
When I first picked this book up in 2008, I put it down again within a few pages. I was upset.

I too had lost a baby, three, in fact, and when McCracken called my wish for pictures a "fetish" and seemed to suggest I was wrong or strange for wanting footprints and memory boxes and any sort of artifact, I just couldn't read on.

But here, three years later, a new friend suggested I try it again. I'm glad I did, as once I was past that hurt, I could see McCracken had written a clear-eyed memoir, used
Jan 02, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2021, audiobooks
What can be said about grief memoirs? Can we say that we like them? That we have favorites? I haven’t read many in this genre, so I don’t have much to compare it to, but that won’t stop me from saying this one is well done. There’s no self-pity here. It has a snarky, biting, funny tone that can’t mask the real human loss. It would be paired well with Nancy Guthrie’s What Grieving People Wish You Knew about What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts). ...more
Aug 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I read the excerpt of this in Oprah Magazine and it moved me more than anything I've read in a long, long time.


Okay, so yesterday when I was sick with a weird, spacey cold, I lay in bed and read this book. It's beautiful, and incredibly sad, and what happened to Elizabeth and Edward is terrible. This book is so honest...

I'm having a hard time writing this review, perhaps because the events in the book, both the awful and wonderful ones, feel too big to summarize or comment on.

Dec 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
mccracken writes about the loss of her first child in the ninth month of his development. her candidness and heartbreaking honesty makes this book one that gives me the peace in knowing someone gets the magnitude of the grief from this type of loss. although i didn't lose babies in the ninth month, what she describes in the aftermath of such a loss sounds familiar. i will definitely recommend this book to anyone i know that has lost a child or miscarried a baby. ...more
Lisa Lieberman
Jul 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this memoir, but the writer in me was always conscious of the choices McCracken was making, the analogies she chose to convey her pain, the timing of her revelations (like waiting until the very end, when she was going into labor with her second child, before telling us what she blamed herself for the most re: her first pregnancy). I appreciated her more, as a writer, for the choices she made; I could understand why she structured the book the way she did, why she withheld this informa ...more
Feb 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
In An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, Elizabeth McCracken writes, sometimes in excruciating detail, about her experience giving birth to her first child, who was stillborn. It's both a hard book to read and a hard book to put down, and much more gripping than McCracken's fiction. It's not a book I'd give to a grieving mother who has just gone through the same experience, but maybe one I'd give to someone a few months later. She writes beautifully about the pregnancy, the birth, the ...more
Oct 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
If you are one of those people who say "I'd read it but the subject matter is so DEPRESSING" well then move on, dear reader, I do not suffer your disease. Sometimes I worry that I find material on mourning and grief and loss so compelling. but this is the rawest of raw materials and it is usually authentic and that is what I appreciate.
This book has the added bonus of being beautifully, impeccably, stark.
Nov 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books I've read this year. ...more
Jan 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
"Grief lasts longer than sympathy, which is one of the tragedies of the grieving."

I listened to this memoir on audio. Then I listened to it again. It is moving and sad and beautiful, and I fear that any attempt to describe it here will sound at best morbid and at worst like a Lifetime movie. But McCracken's memoir about her experience giving birth to a still-born child is neither of these things. It is a thoughtful, carefully constructed narrative, a love letter to her husband, and the card she
Feb 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: autobiography
Even though Elizabeth's McCracken's loss is different from my own, I was comforted by her ability to articulate her grief. She touched on some things that were so acutely personal to my own experience of pain. I too, wished I could just hand people a card, or wear a t-shirt that said, "My mother just died" in the wake of my calamity. It's agonizing to walk through the world feeling gouged by grief and yet know that you are lobbing a grenade into the conversation when you tell someone. I also fel ...more
Apr 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book was a heartbreaking memoir about loss and life. There are no surprises here--McCracken tells you right up front that "a child dies in this book: a baby. A baby is stillborn," and then adds that a healthy baby is born in this book, too. I was riveted by the story, told in bits and pieces, moving backward and forward fairly fluidly, leaving holes that weren't filled until the end. The writing is stark and honest, yet poetic in its simplicity. It reminded me in so many ways of Joan Didion ...more
Jan 12, 2011 rated it it was ok
I saw the positive press reviews, but forgot about this book until my fiance' bought it for me on my kindle. I finished it in one sitting. I am unfamiliar with Ms. McCracken's other work, but lord, I hope her body of work is better than this self indulgent, aimless, superior, judgmental drivel. This was clearly a vanity work which served a private, very personal purpose and for that I say "Bravo!, I hope it was therapeutic." But did you or your agent have to visit this sub-par work on the rest o ...more
Jan 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
George Saunders said in a recent interview that one of his goals as a writer (and as a person) was to 'really be able to step up to the beauties of life and the horrors of it, without any kind of flinching,' and in this beautiful memoir about the death of her first child, Elizabeth McCracken does just that. Like WAVE by Sonali Deraniyagala, and Emily Rapp's THE STILL POINT OF THE TURNING WORLD, this is a searing, world-cracked-open account of loss, but it is also strongly, profoundly, a book abo ...more
Aug 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2013
I'd like to say from the onset that this review is coloured by my own experience. My second son, Lorenzo, was also stillborn in eerily similar circumstances as those of Pudding. Therefore, while my review may be useful for mothers who have lost babies, it may not be so for other readers. For those other readers, I will say that this is a wonderfully written, profound book about love and loss.

I understand that the author did not mean this to be a "self-help" book about coping with stillbirth, bu
sarah gilbert
Can reviews for a book that begins at the end of the story have spoilers? I think not. I struggled whether to give this book three or four stars, and in the final accounting, it was McCracken's '0n Writing' notes at the end that swung it to three. She writes of her child who has lived, she describes him over and over (and, in my edition, oddly changes the date of his birth forward a year to 2008 -- I'm sure it's a misprint but it's jarring!). And then she insists that she would never have writte ...more
Jan 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Last semester, I took a group dynamics class. You basically sit around in a circle and the professor asks you to share stuff about yourself. It was a fun class, some days less than others. We had two students there who had endured complications in pregnancy, resulting in the loss of possibilities. When they shared this with the class, I didn't really know how to feel. But that is not quite right. All of us have an idea of what to feel, as the empathy modules in our brains activate. To be more pr ...more
Nov 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
Hard to take the story of a still born child and make it anything but a devestating read. But somehow Elizabeth McCracken is able to do this. I actually laughed out loud several times. This reminded me a lot of 'The Year of Magical Thinking.' McCracken is a cool customer too. I thought it was very interesting. It's a memoir of a child who never existed except as a hope and as a thought for the future. How do you mourn that AND continue to go forward into a future you no longer trust. Very intere ...more
Apr 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
When an author writes this amazingly, I pretty much feel stupid writing anything in a critique. It has a sad subject matter (it's a memoir), but her treatment of it is so genius, that you are left uplifted and wiser as a result. Highly highly recommended. ...more
May 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A great book on a subject that is not delved into enough. When I suffered a miscarriage this was the only book that brought me comfort. Thank you Elizabeth.
A.K. Klemm
Dec 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I have never felt so awful as a human being as when I sat reading An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination knowing I’d be ‘reviewing’ it for a blog shortly after I finished. How do you justify that in your mind? ‘Reviewing’ something so personal, so devastating, so beautiful, so intense. As an avid reader, a constant reviewer, and one those people who presume to call themselves a writer though I’ve yet to have anything published, I felt like an inconsiderate intruder reading such an intim ...more
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author by this name in the Goodreads database.

Elizabeth McCracken (born 1966) is an American author. She is married to the novelist Edward Carey, with whom she has two children - August George Carey Harvey and Matilda Libby Mary Harvey. An earlier child died before birth, an experience which formed the basis for McCracken's memoir, An Exact Replica of a Figme

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