September 30, 2008

An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination (Review)

Posted in Book, Nonfiction, Review at 10:05 pm by Laura

An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination
A Memoir
by Elizabeth McCracken

This book will break your heart and piece it back together again. Its central calamity is confessed in the early pages, yet you are compelled forward by the quality of the narrative. If I had it to read again for the first time, I would set aside a long afternoon or evening and read it from cover to cover.

“A child dies in this book: a baby. A baby is stillborn. You don’t have to tell me how sad that is: it happened to me and my husband, our baby, a son. . . A baby is born in this book, too. That is to say, a healthy baby, our second child.”

As I was reading this memoir, I was reminded of Joan Didion’s book, The Year of Magical Thinking. Both books are small gems, hard diamonds that cut through the unimportant dross of life with their testimony of grief and loss. Both women wonder if their losses could have been averted. Didion imagines other paths she and her husband could have taken and wonders if they had, whether he would still be alive, whether her daughter would not have taken ill. McCracken thinks back to critical decisions she and her husband made, such as the decision to be cared for in a rural setting by a midwife, instead of by a doctor nearer to a city hospital.

McCracken describes with the skill of an expert tour guide the dark places of grief to which her soul has traveled. In one chilling passage she illuminates a picture of a woman clutching her child’s dead body to her and offering to show her lovely baby to passersby. Elizabeth found herself, after the loss of the baby called Pudding, as off-putting to many people as that gothic portrait. Friends and acquaintances would act as if nothing had happened because they were uncomfortable.

Reading McCracken’s book could help someone be a compassionate friend to a loved one who has experienced a similar loss. There is no surefire answer as to what to say or how to say it, but McCracken writes that it’s okay to say you have no words.

“I want a book that acknowledges that life goes on but that death goes on, too, that a person who is dead is a long, long story. You move on from it, but the death will never disappear from view. Your friends may say, “Time heals all wounds. No, it doesn’t, but eventually you’ll feel better. You’ll be yourself again. Your child will still be dead. The frivolous parts of your personality, stubborner than you’d imagined, will grow up through the cracks in your soul.”

Thank you to Little Brown for the review copy.

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1 Comment »

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