The Long Goodbye: A Memoir by Meghan O’Rourke is about a daughter whose mother is diagnosed with cancer and does not survive. It is about family and how we grieve. It is about the process of bereavement and the months that lead up to her mother’s inevitable death and the even longer months that follow.
Not unlike Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking, O’Rourke’s memoir doesn’t try to make loss pretty or simple. Rather, she shares the same raw and complicated implications of death, the way society has privatized mourning, and, if not as eloquently as Didion, O’Rourke manages to express her emotions without becoming maudlin or pandering her emotions to make them pretty. Her narrative often cycles around to previously pondered thoughts, sometimes going more deeply, at other times coming at the same emotion, moment, or idea from a different perspective.
Like grief. Grief, which is not linear but spirals in and out, ebbing and then flowing, unexpectedly surprising the bereaved with new ways of weeping. O’Rourke, a reader and writer, tries to find meaning for her own loss and process through the texts of other writers. She quotes from many of these sources and, at the end of the book, offers a reading list of many, but not all, of the texts she explores in the book. Unfortunately, she also doesn’t specifically cite the quotes so when she doesn’t include an author she quotes in the reading list, the reader is left without a means to find the quote for themselves. For instance, when offering a profound quote by Anne Carson, the reader is left without a book title, magazine publication, or any real hope of finding the specific text quoted.
There are other quoted writers who are not given due credit through proper citation. If not for this oversight, I would have happily and easily given this book five stars because I found myself feeling so much as I read. At one point, my heart began racing and my breath quickened as I fought back a dread bordering on personal panic. More than once, I fought to read the page through tears.
This memoir is painfully evocative and beautifully written. Highly and eagerly recommended.