What a bummer. A downer. I’m gobsmacked (thanks, Kate, for your recent post).
So. I finished reading the memoir A Family of Strangers by Deborah Tall. Just my cuppa, let me tell you. (No, gobsmacked and cuppa don’t come from Michigan, where I originate–or from Arizona either–but I like them). In this book, Tall, raised by parents who tell her very little about family history and who seem to have no living relatives, is driven to research her family and discover their origins. Her journey takes her to the Ukraine and what is left of her Jewish family in a very small village–so small it isn’t even a shtetl.
The writing style is that of a lyric essay–the text lives at the edge where poetry and prose meet. So there is a lot of white space on the pages. It means that Tall didn’t have to add little physical details and actions to conversations. She summarizes sometimes instead of creating scenes. The book is full of non sequiturs. Instead of traditional transitions, she structures the book into tiny chapters. She re-uses chapter names to create connections across time and space. I’m fascinated by this style of writing and would like to learn how to do it myself, although not necessarily for my book.
When I got done reading the book, I thought about how I would love to work with her, wondering if she teaches classes anywhere online. I saw that she was editor of the Seneca Review and wondered if my new poems were a good fit since they reminded me a bit of this book. I wanted to find her other books and read them. Above all, I really liked the character Deborah in the book.
Now I’m wondering if I should even tell you why I’m gobsmacked. After all, if I tell you, you will know when you read the book. I didn’t know when I read the book. OK, spoiler alert. If you don’t want the spoiler, just go get hold of the book and enjoy.
Here’s an image so that nobody’s eye accidentally reads the spoiler.
Although there are hints in the book about a family history of cancer, near the end of the book, Tall learns that the type of breast cancer she has been diagnosed with is not hereditary. I was relieved for her two daughters and allowed myself to be lulled into thinking all was well. But it wasn’t. She passed away in 2006, at the age of 55, of inflammatory breast cancer–just after A Family of Strangers was published.
I feel as if I found a friend–and lost her–in one week.