Jacqueline Markowitz and Barbara Williams have never met or spoken, but they know one another. They must, as each has recently published a moving account of a family in which a suicide rules emotionally, and most everybody averts their eyes.
Hope, though, arrives by virtue of the will to look back in favor of the truth. Each author accounts for things with skill and grace. You read “Conversations For Two” and you want to befriend Jacqueline; similarly, you read “The Hope in Leaving” and you’d like to find yourself in Barbara’s life. Hard earned insight fills both books.
Consider me biased, though, as I know Jacqui and Barbara, and know something of their stories. Jacqui is a friend and Barbara is married to an old friend. That said, “Conversations For Two” (found here: www.thejampress.com) and “The Hope in Leaving” (found here http://barbarawilliams.com/writing.html) stand on their own; each evokes in us the yearning to share in the wisdom and strength possessed by both women.
Three more matters, briefly.
First, Jacqui sent me the manuscript of “Conversations For Two” last year, asking if I might write the Afterward. I was curious, but doubtful: you have to really like a book to put your name to it in such a personal way. Reading her story, I became almost inhabited by it. The Afterward came easily, and here it is:
With little warning, Conversations for Two carries a barely suspecting reader into the miasma of grief, and a haunting memory that only suicide can evoke. Remembered fragments, slowly retrieved and recounted, wend their way into the heart of the reader drawn back – willingly and not – into the vapours of pain left floating long ago.
As with many suicides, the family knows, but it doesn’t know; they remember, but don’t remember; they want an accounting of things, but they really don’t want that either. And, most of all, they are quietly desperate to end the internal havoc caused by losing a brother and a son.
Conversations for Two pulls you into its clutches and refuses to let go. At times dreamy and easy going, the story then slices through like a knife. The narrator is both young participant and mature guide to something that happened long ago, and which had laid claim to every piece of her life since. It’s both imagined and all too real.
The story told here, curious and innocent enough at first, emerges out of the need to explore that past and make sense of the one inescapable truth that rules it: that suicide is an intruder which occupies and extorts those it takes down, even as they pretend otherwise. This intruder not only stealthily occupies, but triumphantly owns the emotional house of the family. There is no full breathing. There is no full life for those who thought they were the masters of the house.
Suicide envelops a family in a slow motion crisis. The less accounting and the more pretense, the heavier the emotional weight. Conversations for Two portrays this, but not without hope. Jacqueline Markowitz tells not only the story, forgotten and remembered, of a brother’s life and death, but also reveals much about our own families and the lives and deaths that claim us all, one way or another. Along with this she offers the simple but profound truth: that accounting and memory can move those who speak of such things from death to life – for both the living and the dead.
Second, read what Jane Fonda writes about “The Hope in Leaving”:
If you appreciate Mary Karr or Jeannette Walls, you’ll want to read Williams’ eloquent memoir of growing up in and out of the harsh lumber camps of British Columbia. In an honest, compelling voice devoid of self-pity, she tells of finding solace in nature’s beauty, of grasping for shards of love. Through this painful, riveting journey, this bright, curious child manages to grow into a resilient, hopeful artist.
Finally, want to hear and meet each author in person?
- Barbara will be in conversation about her book with Mary Walsh May 7, 7 pm, in Jackman Hall at the AGO.
- And Jacqui will speak about her book on Shavuot evening June 11, 11 pm, at the Miles Nadal JCC.
Two worthwhile books, two worthwhile evenings!