24 July 2012

Living to tell the tale

A handful of #fridayreads ago I mentioned I was reading Sarah Manguso's THE GUARDIANS, a slim memoir about losing a friend before his time and having to reckon with the circumstances of his death and the stories that would now go untold about him. My friend Em (a long-ago camp pal, now a high-powered publishing person) offered to send me Manguso's first book, saying she liked it even better than THE GUARDIANS which I found fairly gripping even with its narrow scope.

THE TWO KINDS OF DECAY covers a period much earlier and slightly more internalized in Manguso's life, when she developed a rare autoimmune disorder. In the space of a few months during which Manguso was in and out of hospitals with what looked like a case of chronic fatigue or maybe a virus, she went from a thriving college junior to a patient who could barely leave her room because she needed all of her plasma replaced on a regular basis. So sure were she and her parents that she would be back, the first few times she was hospitalized they didn't even clean out her dorm room.

Manguso's style of writing lends power to her recounting of her ordeal by the number of things she leaves out that might be otherwise standard in a facing-your-own-mortality chronicle like this. To me, Manguso's disease represents the first kind of decay as the coating around her nerves disintegrates, leaving her practically unable to move, but as her condition takes up more and more of her life, her view of the world and its possibilities shrinks to the hospital bed till it's almost unimaginable that she will get up again. This is the decay of confidence, of viewing her condition as an anvil perpetually about to drop on her head. Yet Manguso writes about it so movingly, she relies on a perspective I wouldn't expect her to have on her ordeal, making it imaginable.

This isn't the kind of book you would want to buy for someone suffering from a chronic illness, necessarily, but a friend or family member may appreciate it to be able to enter into the mindset of someone who is going through something like Manguso's ordeal.

No comments: