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Companion to an Untold Story (Association of Writers and Writing Programs Award for Creative Nonfiction) Hardcover – September 15, 2012

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Product Details

  • Series: Association of Writers and Writing Programs Award for Creative Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press (September 15, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0820343374
  • ISBN-13: 978-0820343372
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 5.6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,266,988 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“Exquisitely sad but painstaking in its clarity, Companion to an Untold Story is an effort to understand a friend’s decision to commit suicide. The author lays out the facts and emotions using the structure of an abecedary, as if the simplicity of a child’s alphabet book could bring logic to the terrible puzzle of loss. There is no suspense in the outcome, but reading the book draws you in so intimately that you, too, feel an urgent need to understand why an intelligent, likeable man would choose, with great deliberateness, to kill himself. This is a difficult subject, written extraordinarily well: a winner.”—Susan Orlean, author of Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend

“A wise reflection, both sympathetic and unflinching, on the life and death by suicide of the author’s friend. The book poses questions about suicide and the processes leading up to it and provides answers too . . . when they exist. Perhaps just as importantly, the book leaves unanswerable questions as such, accurately and creatively distilling the experiences of those bereaved by suicide.”—Thomas Joiner, author of Why People Die by Suicide

"In Companion to an Untold Story, Marcia Aldrich takes on the complex challenge of attempting to understand a friend’s tragic suicide and her own failure to see the signs. This powerful memoir derives its power not just from the author’s unflinching honesty but from the unique form she has chosen to shape this tale. A fascinating, absorbing story."—Dinty W. Moore, author of Between Panic and Desire

"Marcia Aldrich takes on a project that seems impossible—restoring the life of a friend who gave away all his possessions and killed himself in an empty apartment—and succeeds brilliantly. She pieces together a portrait of the man and her friendship with him from multiple small definitions, each of them precise, lyrical, and daring. The resulting book is an ultimate companion—a friend, a guide, a moral compass—to the man’s memory and to us all."—Kyoko Mori, author of Yarn: Remembering the Way Home

"By turns haunting, fascinating, funny, and intensely mournful, Aldrich's Companion [to an Untold Story] is a stellar work that goes beyond Joel's story and into the very nature of grief and loss. How do people put the fragments of another's life together when they're gone? Many times, it's an impossible task, but Aldrich shows the worthiness of the attempt."
—Elizabeth Millard, ForeWord Reviews

"Companion to an Untold Story is ultimately a meditation on memory and mystery. Released from event sequence, its approach searching but indirect, like poetry, Aldrich's memoir is compulsively readable and surprisingly moving."—Richard Gilbert, NARRATIVE

"Aldrich is a skilled and savvy writer. . . . [G]ifted writing and a unique premise. . . . Worth Your Time!"—Dan Berkowitz, PsychCentral

“The overall effect of [Companion to an Untold Story] is haunting, and the list of images and entries creates a sense that, like most lasting grief, this story will never end for the narrator. Strange and highly personal details . . . give the reader the feeling of standing with the narrator at the edge of Joel’s death and, like the narrator, trying to put the pieces together.”—Sonya Huber, Fourth Genre

About the Author

Marcia Aldrich is a professor of English at Michigan State University and the former editor of the journal Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction. She is the author of the memoir Girl Rearing: A Memoir of a Girlhood Gone Astray. Her nonfiction essays have been published in a wide variety of literary reviews and anthologies, including The Best American Essays.

More About the Author

I was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and raised in that very spot by my parents and half sisters, a story told in "Girl Rearing." I graduated from Pomona College, earned a doctorate in English at the University of Washington, and now teach creative writing at Michigan State University. From 2008 to 2011 I edited "Fourth Genre," one of the premiere literary journals featuring personal essays and memoirs. In spring 2010 I was the Mary Routt Chair of Writing at Scripps College in Claremont, California (where I lived in the Hut with goldens Omar and Quin), and in that same year was named Distinguished Professor of the Year by the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By boston reader on October 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Marcia Aldrich has written a classic in the genre of grief and bereavement. "Companion to an Untold Story" manages better than anything I've read on suicide to craft a literary structure that gives shape to the riot of feelings a loved one's suicide unleashes. The book is about Joel, a dear friend and a complicated/smart/edgy/compelling/frustrated man who made and carried out an inexorable and hidden plan to take his life. In addition to writing the story of Joel's death and her own response to it, Aldrich offers an intimate look at a marriage, for Joel was her husband Richard's friend first.

As to the form of the book, the many lines of story and feeling are presented in alphabetized sections. Some of the sections have cross-references and the reader can follow numerous paths through the sections. As an avid reader of memoir and biography, I think this book is among a cherished handful to take the genre to new levels of literary art.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Mid-Century Modern Maven on September 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Anyone who has had the good fortune to read any of the many essays written by Marcia Aldrich knows that she is the Mistress of Minutiae. In Companion to an Untold Story she takes her impeccable *third eye* to new heights to examine the suicide of her friend, Joel, and her reaction to that suicide. Aldrich doesn't write fiction. This book is all too real.

The format of the book is illuminating. Written as a companion, the book presents the story in fragments, exactly as life happens. As I read the book, each new page surprised me. There is no surprise about the outcome. The surprise is about how one person (Aldrich) deals with this tragedy. Reading her mind as she presents it on the page, she allows the reader to come to their own conclusions. Talking with others who have read the book, it appears that each person who reads it will come to a different conclusion. Aldrich will merely walk you through the process of examination. She spares no one. She will not spare you either.

This haunting memoir is a must-read for those with the courage to confront themselves.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By MN Poetry Reader on July 1, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I knew the premise of the book as I started reading - the narrator trying to understand the recent suicide of a close friend. What I found was a very complex, and sometimes brutally honest, memoir about a kind of social blindness - the way we each see what we want to see, and how we are blind to the obvious if that truth isn't what we want or need in our lives. The author doesn't spare herself or her dead friend as she reflects back on the years leading up to his suicide. The book is cathartic, but doesn't offer any single, final message of redemption. If it had done this, it would have rung untrue. Instead, it settles for the the author can know, and lets understanding stop at what cannot be understood.
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