Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Guardians: An Elegy by Sarah Manguso

The Guardians: An Elegy by Sarah Manguso

Release Date: February 28th 2012
Pages: 128
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Publisher:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Also by this Author: The Two Kinds of Decay
Buy It: Book Depository
The Guardians is an elegy for Manguso’s friend Harris, two years after he escaped from a psychiatric hospital and jumped under that train. The narrative contemplates with unrelenting clarity their crowded postcollege apartment, Manguso’s fellowship year in Rome, Harris’s death and the year that followed—the year of mourning and the year of Manguso’s marriage.
So the first thing I want to talk about is what I was afraid of when I first picked up The Guardians; and that was that it might get bogged down in science instead of lifted up by poetry, something Manguso's first memoir The Two Kinds of Decay suffered from a bit too much. And unfortunately it does, sometimes veering into too much fact, like describing side effects of certain anti-psychotics, going into a detailed history of akathisia, even quoting two paragraphs directly from a Czech doctor, Ladislav Haskovec. At the end of the description she links it back to her friend Harris, as the common outcome includes suicide, specifically by jumping, but by that point I was wondering why I was reading all of this info dump of facts.

The other major time info-dump happened was much later in the book, where there are several pages quoting three published cases on the same side effect. The Guardians is so short, barely past 100 pages, so that in a way I felt cheated having to read three full pages that weren't Manguso's; more science, more quotes. She even quotes herself at one point, a page from a novel she didn't finish.

But– the reason I felt the need to detail the fault of this memoir so precisely is that the rest of The Guardians, the part in Manguso's own words, it's absolutely breath-taking and original. There are countless times when I had to pause reading to write down a quote, something beautiful and heart-breaking that twisted inside me. At one point, Manguso writes:
"Then, when he dies, you’ll wonder how his death could have burned you entirely away– yet there you are, walking out of the fire in a form you no longer recognize."
Her powerful description of grief reminded me sometimes of The Long Goodbye by Meghan O'Rourke, another memoir and one I absolutely adored. Both O'Rourke and Manguso have this powerful, sharp and broken way of describing grief, of reminding the reader of the pain. The other author that comes to mind, because of the topic but also the fragmented way of writing, different memories combining into one tragic story– is Joan Didion, who dealt with grief in two memoirs, The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights. It especially reminds me of Blue Nights because it is both the story of the person who died, in this case her friend Harris, and a story of a personal journey– as Manguso marries her husband.

Ultimately, Manguso's poetic prose is what make The Guardians such a wonderful yet heart-breaking book– she has a genuine and beautiful way of capturing moments and feelings, which is why I am disappointed every time she veers off into the scientific instead.

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