The Suicide Index (Hardcover)
Putting My Father's Death in Order
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 9780151014903, 336pp.
Publication Date: August 1, 2008
"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 most formal and orderly of structures--Wickersham explores this chaotic and incomprehensible reality. Every bit of family history--marriage, parents, business failures--and every encounter with friends, doctors, and other survivors exposes another facet of elusive truth. Dark, funny, sad, and gripping, at once a philosophical and deeply personal exploration, "The Suicide Index" is, finally, a daughter's anguished, loving elegy to her father.
Praise For The Suicide Index: Putting My Father's Death in Order…
PRAISE FOR THE SUICIDE INDEX
Written in the form of an index, an acknowledgment of Wickersham’s inability to frame her father’s act in any conventional linear form, this memoir is written in a cool, economical and ultimately piercing style utterly devoid of easy pathos or cliché. Anyone prone to facile dismissal of the memoir as literary high art should be silenced by the perfection of Wickersham's prose and her ability to hold the facts and her feelings up to the light, turning them again and again to reveal yet another facet of grief, anger, love, pity and guilt.
"In spare prose, Wickersham has produced an artful and vivid memoir...within the index of ‘suicide,’ she has found a form capacious enough for both intimate detail and general information...her pursuit of ‘why’ leads Wickersham and her reader into the ‘unanswerable questions and resolvable paradoxes’ that give her book classic qualities."
"In this harrowing, beautifully written memoir, Joan Wickersham tries to understand the forces that drove her father to take his own life. Part detective story, part anguished examination of a family, she traces the myriad repercussions suicide has not only on the future but also on the past. And she has created the perfect form in which to stage her inquiry. A powerful, important book."
-Abigail Thomas, author of THREE DOG LIFE
"The Suicide Index is just astonishing. Having endured the suicide of a close family member, I opened this book with dread and longing: fearful of revisiting so much pain yet keenly wanting, as I always will, to understand why. No one can ever fully answer the devastating question that suicide remains for those left behind, yet here, in Joan Wickersham''s exquisitely straightforward story, I found surprising consolation. It is a love story, a mystery, a quiet tragedy, a dark comedy, and a profoundly absorbing modern family saga. It will stay with me for a very long time."
-Julia Glass, author of Three Junes
"This book is beautifully written and haunts the reader long after it''s closed."
"Wickersham''s tender, funny, occasionally sardonic, and ultimately gut-wrenching memoir is more a story of family life than a somber assessment of self-murder."
[Wickersham] exposes the whole messy territory of inheritance, of heritage, of what our families leave us, the treacherous trail of genetics and psychology and unhappiness, the legacy of all those generations as they play out in ways that we can see and ways that we will never see across the patterns of our lives...an almost perfect balance, producing a survivor''s story, a portrait of suicide from the outside, one that finds clarity in its inability to be clarified.
Wickersham refuses to settle for sentimental, simplistic answers. Her absorbing narrative is suffused with a profound longing to understand what went wrong in her father''s life...Joan Wickersham has journeyed into the dark underworld inside her father and herself, and has emerged with a powerful, gripping story.
Bleak, strong, and fiercely honest, this book will help anyone going through [the process of loss].
Wickersham, the top-drawer writer, expresses little anger toward her father; she feels that she''s the only one left who''s on his side. But she is terrible in her loyalty to him; as she recounts the various instances in which his fragile dignity was wounded during his life, you cringe, in turn, for her mother, her in-laws, her father''s business partner, her father''s parents, and so on, when she trains her pitiless eye on one after the other.
Compassionate, loyal, quietly keening.
The Suicide Index is the daughter''s piercing and profoundly considered response to [her father''s] death … Brilliant… Against the violent transgression of suicide, Wickersham has crafted a consummately subtle book… In its discipline and art, The Suicide Index has the feel of a classic.
Honest, brave, incredibly moving and completely unflinching in its honesty. It''s one of those rare books that will haunt you for a long time after you finish it . . . Wickersham''s writing is gorgeous, restrained and lyrical at the same time . . . Amazing.