"The most mysterious part of grief is that you think you can will it away."
History of a Suicide: My Sister's Unfinished Life is Jill Bialosky's reflection on her sister's life, a girl who killed herself when she was only twenty two and who's family has mourned her for decades. Bialosky tells her own personal story including her struggle with miscarriages and accepting her sister's death, but also delves into the life of her sister, Kim, and what events may have lead up to her suicide. In addition, Bialosky reflects on suicide in general, talking to specialists in the field and referencing writing on the topic.
When I read An Exclusive Love by Johanna Adorjan, I felt the author was too far detached from her grandparents to have the intended impact when discussing their suicide. I was really surprised then, when History of a Suicide did not leave me with the same feeling. I think the difference is that in this book, Bialosky deals not only with the events leading up to her sister's death, but also how it impacted her own life, looking at suicide from a more general context and allowing her to reflect on the impact it has on those it leaves behind, as well as attempting to answer why people choose to commit suicide at all. Bialosky doesn't pretend to have any answers, but what she does offer is a beautifully written testament to the legacy her sister Kim left behind, both the happy and the sad memories.
The most powerful aspect of History of a Suicide is the writing, such crystal clear beauty that I was not surprised when I learned that Bialosky is also a poet. Although I had not heard of her before she does include several relevant poems of hers in the book which share the same stark imagery although tend be more abstract. Many of her phrases weaved their way into my mind, especially when she talked about why she was writing this book at all. The book includes powerful descriptions such as:
"The page has been my container, my ship; my words my compass; my memory my harpoon in my desire to wrest coherence from the unwieldy material of personal truth."Some of my favourite excerpts come from Bialosky's writing on writing, including:
"Formulating our own words about our lives translates our interior hieroglyphics into the stories we tell ourselves to make events from our pasts more understandable, give them shape and meaning, organize the chaos of the unconscious where we most often dwell."
History of a Suicide is also littered with poems and excerpts from famous works on suicide, Bialosky references everything from Shakespeare to Sylvia Plath to a nature documentary she once watched. In this way, the message that suicide is everywhere, it is a universal pain that cannot be truly understood until it is experience, is re-enforced with startling clarity. By the time Bialosky shares her sister's suicide note the book is almost over. I had been waiting for it, anxiously, perhaps wanting to see if it shared a clue into why she killed herself. When the reader finally reaches it, it is instead absolutely heartbreaking and tragic, simple and short, she sounds so much still like a little girl. A little girl who never had the chance to grow up.
Ultimately, History of a Suicide is completely unique in that it contains memoir of Bialosky's life including the years she spent with her sister, as well hypothesis on the events leading up to Kim's death. Also included are excerpts from Kim's diary and schoolwork, as well as lists of things such as what was in her closet when she died. In addition, Bialosky reflects on suicide in literature as well as including discussion on the science behind suicide and what a person can do when they think somebody is at risk: ask. The end result of History of a Suicide is both incredibly personal and universal, leaving the reader with the powerfully true message, that despite all Bialosky has written, "the dialogue we have with the dead is never ending."
Release Date: February 15th, 2011
Source: E-galley from publisher
Buy the Book