The Long Goodbye: Book Review from Michelle Woods

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How It’s Irish: 


“Folks, I hate Deathriture.”  Michelle Woods reviews Meghan O’Rourke’s Memoir– and it gets her thinking about blogging, the art form



Meghan O’Rourke will be in conversation with Belinda McKeon at the Irish Arts Center Tuesday, April 3, 7:30 pm.

 Mortality – no, let’s call it Death – bites you on the ass.


That’s the long and short of it in Meghan O’Rourke’s memoir, The Long Goodbye, due out in paperback in April. Ostensibly (WHY OSTENSIBLY?  ARE YOU DOUBTING HER?)  charting her mother’s death from lung cancer at the age of 55, like many books of its genre, it’s also about the author’s reaction and response to the fact of death.

Folks, I hate Deathriture.

But it seems I’m in a minority; there appears to be an insatiable market for books about loss and grief. Who’d have thought Death had so much life in it?

I suspect there’s a selfish motive here – that these books are therapeutic for the authors and nominally therapeutic for us. While the memoirists talk at us about their dead mother / child / husband / pet squid, we make all the right sounds, but what we’re thinking is: “I’m going to bloody die!” and “that reminds me of my own dead father / aunt / nephew / pet tarantula la la la la la, fingers in my ear, is someone saying something?”

 Maybe there’s something necessary in that, and in fact, one of the universally applicable insights in O’Rourke’s book, is that it’s okay for people to weep inconsolably at the funeral of someone they don’t really know, because it’s an outlet for their own grief about themselves or their own loved ones.

Within these parameters, I was primed. I’ve lost a parent. The week before reading this, the other had a brush with the old Reaper and was still hospitalized. I was suddenly ready to gobble Deathriture up whole. It’s not that I was suddenly interested in anyone else’s story; I was wholly consumed with my own. Ripe for this kind of reading.

O’Rourke’s story is sad. Her mother dies. It’s not a good death. It’s messy. Cancer returns. It’s ugly. O’Rourke’s marriage flounders. Divorce. She has two brothers. And a father. She gets angry. Life goes on. 

MORE HERE– what’s in the book?  DID ANYTHING SEEM MOVING TO YOU?  APPALLING?  SAD?. WHO IS MEGHAN?  HER FAMILY?  THE FATHER HAS DEMENTIA– SURELY THAT MATTERS?  DID THE DIVORCE MAKE THINGS HARDER?  WERE THE BROTHERS SUPPORTIVE OR NOT? 


What the book did get me thinking about was not death, or the loss of a parent, or sympathy for the survivors, but the difference between blogging and literature. O’Rourke wrote a series of blogs on grieving for Slate.com which are at the basis of the memoir. It’s evident that she wrote some blogs because of some of the odd transitions in the book between descriptions of her mother dying to Sunday Styles type journalism on grief – it made me suspect she was a journo-blogger before I found out that she was. 

IS THERE SOME ISSUE WITH BEING A JOURNO-BLOGGER?   OR A JOURNALIST? 


There’s nothing wrong with this. Actually, when I read the blogs after reading the memoir, I quite liked them. Blogs are immediate, aggregational in nature (often citing other links etc). They don’t have to impart knowledge (though some do) and tend toward, instead, the informational. The literary book is another beast, though. 

BUT IT’S A MEMOIR– A GENRE THAT TYPICALLY DOESN’T NEED TO BE OVERLY LITERARY.  DOES IT NOT WORK AS A MEMOIR?

Let me give two examples. Here is the first, an opening paragraph of a chapter:

It was a cold spring. A bitter rain came down for days on end, as if the gods knew my sorrow. In literary criticism, the term for this association is “pathetic fallacy,” coined by the art critic John Ruskin to describe the attribution of human emotion to nature and inanimate objects; the harsh, angry moors of Wuthering Heights mirror the characters’ lives. At work on the website, I was often irritable, and I’d decided that after its launch I would take the summer off, then go back to teaching.

The herky-jerky movement from the (I’m sorry) clichéd language “It was a cold spring. A bitter rain …” to the informational tone, “In literary criticism …” to the factual “At work on the website” grates. Why not say: “The rain reflected my mood” if you’re going to be mundane about it?
The second example involves Google. O’Rourke moves suddenly from talking about feeling grief even before her mother died (an interesting point) to material obviously from her blog posts on Slate. We read:

And that was why one afternoon, about three weeks after my mother died, unable to get far from bed, I googled “grief.” I was having a bad day. It was two p.m., and I was on the bed wondering: Was it normal to believe surviving was pointless? Was I losing my mind? I wanted a picture of this experience from the outside: a clinical picture. So I began to read, thinking that information might stop me from feeling that I was floating away.
            Not surprisingly, perhaps, the clinical picture on grief is extensive…

She provides a list of what she “finds” and what she “reads” on Google: C.S. Lewis, Freud, Kübler-Ross, Eric Lindemann, and gives a potted account of each.

The kind of thing you’d read if you googled “grief.” 

The original of the above paragraph in her blog post on Slate which reads as follows:


“And that is why one afternoon, about three weeks after my mother died, I Googled “grief.”
I was having a bad day. It was 2 p.m., and I was supposed to be doing something. Instead, I was sitting on my bed (which I had actually made, in compensation for everything else undone) wondering: Was it normal to feel everything was pointless? Would I always feel this way? I wanted to know more. I wanted to get a picture of this strange experience from the outside, instead of the melted inside. So I Googled—feeling a little like Lindsay in Freaks and Geeks, in the episode where she smokes a joint, gets way too high, and digs out an encyclopedia to learn more about “marijuana.” Only information can prevent her from feeling that she’s floating away.”

This is more honest and funny. She’s self-deprecating about the action, in the argot of the cool, cultural blogger who knows their only area of expertise is popular culture.

I’m sorry for O’Rourke. It’s terrible to watch a parent die. (And nobody’s yet told her that your grief over a parent only ends when you do.) 

But there is something more at stake here and that it is the promotion of a “most emailed” mentality – buzz becoming knowledge.  MOST PEOPLE WILL NOT AGREE WITH YOU HERE.  MOST PEOPLE THINK WATCHING A PARENT DIE IS WAY MORE SIGNIFICANT THAN WHETHER BUZZ = KNOWLEDGE.


ADD PARAGRAPH ABOUT THE ACTUAL EVENTS HERE- 

SOMETHING LIKE;  about the book== onto the events in it. 

WHO IS THE BOOK FOR?  WILL IT WORK ON SOME LEVEL, FOR PEOPLE IN PAIN?  OR IS THE WRITING SO BAD, THAT THE EVENTS JUST DON’T LAND?

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