the fine print: Joyce Carole Oates and Meghan O’Rourke on grief

March 11, 2011

At first I thought it was just me. After my mother died last summer, it seemed that the simple act of opening my laptop would bring me another essay about grief. More stories. Novels. Movies. Songs. … But apparently there is a veritable deluge of writing about loss, grief, dying, death. So says the New York Times, which asked Joyce Carole Oates and Meghan O’Rourke about the publishing trend. Oates’s new memoir is called a A Widow’s Story. O’Rourke is writing a book about her mother’s death. Says O’Rourke:

“Friends talk to you about ‘getting through it’ and ‘moving on’ and ‘healing.’ We shy away from talking about death, not out of cold-heartedness, but out of fear. No one wants to say the wrong thing; and death is scary. I think this is part of why there are so many memoirs and movies about loss: They create a public space where we can talk safely about grief.”

Do yourself a favour and read Story’s End: Writing a Mother’s Death, O’Rourke’s recent essay in The New Yorker and a sort of teaser, I assume, for her upcoming book. Story’s End is touching, but there are writerly flourishes that raise it above catharsis. It is beautiful. Her book about her mother, The Long Goodbye, will be out in April 2011.

Denise Duguay


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