On the Huffington Post’s book page, author Elizabeth Benedict has written a thoughtful and probing review of Michael Downing’s (Fiction/Creative Nonfiction Finalist ’08) memoir Life with Sudden Death (as you may recall, we interviewed Michael about the book on ArtSake). I enjoyed how the review deeply engages the book on its own terms.
From the review:
… it’s a compelling story, but it’s Downing’s intelligence, his bone-dry wit, his carefully measured sorrow, carefully controlled rage, and beautifully wrought prose that make this memoir such a standout. His writing has the cerebral precision and focus of Joan Didion’s, but it’s got other kinds of fullness and heart too.
Downing describes a series of harrowing journeys through a pre-eminent Boston hospital, in which a less vigilant patient than himself would surely have fared less well – never mind what would have become of someone uninsured or completely uninformed.
Yet it isn’t social commentary or critique that makes Life with Sudden Death so memorable. It’s the unsentimental way Downing writes about wonder, gratitude, love, art, and even religion. It’s passages like this: “My mother and I both lived long enough to understand that we had loved other people better and had been better loved by others, too. What we had was the singular authority to say, I know you.”
And lines like this: “If you are about to die, I have a hotel to recommend with wrought-iron balconies hanging above the Arno and coffee service from friendly guys in tuxedos. Compared with the hospital, they’re giving the rooms away.”
Read the full review.
Listen to Michael reading an excerpt from Life with Sudden Death.