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In the Shadow of Memory (American Lives) Paperback – September 1, 2004

4.6 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this remarkable collection of essays, part of the American Lives series (edited by Tobias Wolff), Skloot (The Night Side) conveys what it is like to live with a damaged brain. In 1988, Skloot was beset by a virus that left him with brain lesions (static dementia) that dramatically affected his ability to think. (Because of this condition, each piece here took one to two years to complete and was constructed laboriously in small periods of time.) He often cannot find an appropriate word and may say, for example, "pass the sawdust" instead of "pass the rice." He forgets faces, names, directions and how to perform simple tasks, and suffers from loss of balance. Skloot, now in his late 50s, movingly describes how, despite his losses, he feels enriched by the life he shares with his very supportive wife, Beverly, in a quiet rural environment. Of particular interest is an account of a month that the couple spent on Ireland's Achill Island. Another section deals with his struggle to come to terms with a harsh childhood during which his mother, now in her 90s and sliding into dementia herself, routinely beat and abused him and his brother. The author also details, without self-pity, how he was subjected by the Social Security Administration to a series of tests to prove that his illness was organically based and his disability status legitimate. This is an unusual and engrossing memoir written with intelligence, honesty, perception and humor.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In this rarest of travel books, readers journey deep into the unimaginable world of dementia. But no dispassionate neurobiologist or theoretical psychologist serves as guide for the journey. In revealing the disorienting features of this strange mental landscape--the gaping lapses of memory, the sudden lurches in logic, the dizzying failures of balance--poet and essayist Skloot is taking us into the recesses of his own disease-stricken mind. With unsentimental clarity, Skloot recounts how a viral infection plunged him into the nightmare of severe neurological disorder--his memory ravaged, his intelligence impaired, his rationality unseated. What will amaze readers, however, is the poise--and even humor--with which Skloot turns personal catastrophe into literary reflection. These reflections convert neurological fact into poignant insight on how brain failure at once imperils and reveals the human essence. That essence shines brightly in Skloot's valiant struggle to deal with his own plight at the very time his mother is spiraling into the living death of Alzheimer's and his brother is succumbing to diabetes. Perhaps because so many of his memories have vanished into the black hole of disease, Skloot unfolds each of his remaining recollections as fragments of a precious mosaic of meaning. A remarkable literary achievement. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Series: American Lives
  • Paperback: 244 pages
  • Publisher: Bison Books (September 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0803293224
  • ISBN-13: 978-0803293229
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #750,909 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Floyd Skloot is a creative nonfiction writer, poet, and fiction writer whose work has received three Pushcart Prizes, a Pen USA Literary Award, two Pacific NW Book Awards, an Independent Publishers Book Award, and two Oregon Book Awards. In 2010, Poets & Writers named him one of 50 of the most inspiring authors in the world. His writing has appeared in such distinguished magazines as The New York Times Magazine, Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, Poetry, American Scholar, Boulevard, Georgia Review, Hopkins Review, Sewanee Review, Southern Review, Hudson Review, Gettysburg Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Prairie Schooner, and Creative Nonfiction. His nineteen books include the memoirs In the Shadow of Memory (University of Nebraska Press, 2003), A World of Light (University of Nebraska Press, 2005), The Wink of the Zenith: The Shaping of a Writer's Life (University of Nebraska Press, 2008), and Revertigo: An Off-Kilter Memoir (University of Wisconsin Press, 2014); the poetry collections The End of Dreams (Louisiana State University Press, 2006), Selected Poems: 1970-2005 (Tupelo Press, 2008), The Snow's Music (Louisiana State University Press, 2008), Close Reading (Eyewear Publishing, London UK, 2014, and Approaching Winter (Louisiana State University Press 2015); and the novels Summer Blue (Story Line Press, 1994) and Patient 002 (Rager Media, 2007).

He co-edited The Best American Science Writing 2011 (HarperCollins/Ecco Press) with his daughter, Rebecca Skloot.

He has contributed book reviews to the New York Times Book Review, Boston Globe, Harvard Review, Sewanee Review, and other publications.

Floyd has taught at the Mid-Atlantic Creative Nonfiction Summer Writers Conference at Goucher College, the Paris Writers Workshop, and elsewhere.

He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife, Beverly Hallberg. Floyd's daughter, Rebecca Skloot, is the bestselling author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Crown Books, 2010), winner of the Heartland Prize and Wellcome Trust Book Prize, and named Best Book of 2010 by Amazon.com. Visit her website at www.rebeccaskloot.com.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
A fierce virus assaulted Floyd Skloot's brain overnight, leaving him severely impaired, mentally. With his productive life changed forever, he began painstakingly writing heroic essays about his experience. Against all odds (given the dour subject), the result is insightful, moving and often downright hilarious. As a writer of poetry and novels, Skloot is able to plumb the depths of his mind for just the right word or phrase to lift his tragedy to heroic levels. By the end of the book, you realize that he has come to the point of viewing his disaster as an opportunity to live a rich and rewarding new life - just on a different level.
Inspirational without being cloying.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Floyd Skloot. An unlikely name, an incredible medical survivor, and a monument to the durability of the human spirit. IN THE SHADOW OF MEMORY is a memoir by a man who by rights should be unable to have access to memory. On December 7, 1988 ( a date he frequently references ) Floyd Skloot became infected with a virus that all but destroyed his brain. He was left without the ability to ambulate, to process information, to remember from moment to moment what his intentions were in the most basic maneuvering things of life. Prior to his illness he was a writer and a poet and after fourteen years of heroic struggle, he has been able to write about his journey to acceptance of his condition, his childhood as a member of a family with a highly bizarre mother, a distant father and a gradually self-destructive brother. So with all this permanent brain damage, how is Floyd Skloot able to produce this elegant, compelling, warmly humorous, insightful group of essays? Well, VERY slowly - is the main answer. He explains that it took about eleven months to write one essay, bit by fragmented bit.
And what essays they are! The first half of his book is devoted to relating his struggle out of the abyss of an obliterated memory of his past. In his words "Memory is what connects us and memory is what has torn us apart." It is a phenomenal, charismatic paeon to the strength of the human spirit. In the last half we are treated to meditations (with much humor) on "Kismet", "Pal Joey," and "Hamlet" as well as other philosophical meanderings.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the first time I have been inspired to write a review for Amazon. I do so because I believe Floyd Skloot's memoir deserves as wide a readership as possible.

His description of his own condition is extraordinary. I cannot think of another volume in which neurological illness is described so vividly "from the inside." His integration of relevant scientific literature within his account is always accessible and informative. And his setting all of this in the wider context of his life story makes terrific reading. He is candid, insightful, evocative, and poetic. We get to know him, not only as a writer and as a patient, but as a person--and he's a mensch. Although he lives far out in the country, he becomes our neighbor with this volume. This is of the most honest, perceptive, and well crafted books that I have read in a very long time.
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Format: Hardcover
Ostensibly about the permanent effects of a sudden and debilitating virus on his brain and cognitive processes, this collection of superb essays aims for and achieves much larger and ambitious goals. Ultimately, the main subject is the re-assembly of memory -- and the forces at work that impede the reconstruction. Furthermore, Skloot's research into the subject of cognition and memory (he is a writer and poet by trade, not a physician) builds an intriguing thesis: Any child who has been subjected to unpredictable emotional violence from parents may be predisposed to illness. The brain, repeatedly flooded with chemicals during moments of childhood terror and fear, reshapes itself due to the onslaughts. This has implications not only for the "ill" such as himself but for us all. After a first section dealing with his illness, Skloot then offers pieces on the idiosyncracies of his Brooklyn family (he was born in 1947). His mother, in particular, stands at the center of his troubling youth. In the third section, his mother's deterioration through Alzheimer's provides an unlooked for link between mother and son. Skloot is a meticulous practitioner of the essay form and has much to teach anyone learning the form. Altogether, a bravura performance from a highly talented writer.
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By A Customer on September 9, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I value this book most as a wonderful family memoir -- of the Skloots 1950s working-to-middle class immigrant experience. I wish everyone could write about their dysfunctional families with the kind of compassion and forgiveness found here.
Skloot never flies the victim banner with his physical condition -- on the contrary, it seems to have given him a greater understanding of others. In his forties, he was hit with a virus that left him with some of the same brain malfunctions as his Alzheimers-afflicted mother. The story of his recovered relationship with his brother -- a compulsively over-eating, severe diabetic, and his once terrifying mother, are healing for anyone to read.
This is real soul food.
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