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The Still Point of the Turning World Hardcover – March 7, 2013

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Editorial Reviews Review

Author One-on-One: Cheryl Strayed Interviews Emily Rapp

Cheryl StrayedEmily Rapp

Cheryl Strayed's most recent books include the best-selling memoir Wild, which was Oprah Winfrey’s first selection for Oprah's Book Club 2.0; the advice essay collection Tiny Beautiful Things; and her debut novel Torch. Raised in Minnesota, Strayed now lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, the filmmaker Brian Lindstrom, and their two children.

Cheryl Strayed: Why did you want to write this book?

Emily Rapp: I wrote this book out of necessity; I would say I didn't want to write it, but that I had to write it. I was compelled, in a way I've never been before, to try and make sense of the chaos of my life in the wake of my son's terminal diagnosis. I wanted to write it as a way of kicking back against grief, that great leveler, and I felt an urgency to wrangle with the deepest issues of human life--What is luck? Where do we go when we die?--because I was being faced with them in a real-time, intensely dramatic way.

Cheryl Strayed: What was it like to write this book, at the same time Ronan was slipping away from you?

Emily Rapp: It was terrible, and it was beautiful. On the one hand, I was tracking his decline; on the other hand, I felt swollen and bright with love. It might sound silly, but a broken heart is an open one, and I was definitely broken. But I was working, and this gave me purpose, and the more I learned from Ronan’s presence--his innocence and beauty--the more I wanted to write about what this parenting journey had taught me not just about being a mother, but about being a human being.

Cheryl Strayed: Who were the writers who served as touchstones during this process?

Emily Rapp: Mary Shelley, Louise Gluck, Sylvia Plath, Simone Weil, Carson McCullers, old Akkadian myths like the Epic of Gilgamesh, and especially the work of C. S. Lewis.

Cheryl Strayed: What did you learn that surprised you, about the process of grieving for Ronan?

Emily Rapp: That grief can be electrifying, shot through with moments of deep presence and a feeling of being in the moment, which alternatively creates a feeling of elation, of true happiness. I was surprised that I could laugh, and love, and be, and also grieve through all of that. It taught me the fundamental truth of death-in-life that we all try to avoid but eventually cannot.

Cheryl Strayed: What do you most want readers to take away from the experience of reading this book?

Emily Rapp: I want readers to rethink their notions of tragedy and normalcy. I want them to find beauty in our human fragility, in the precariousness of all our lives, and I want this to act as a catalyst for them to live and love more boldly in their own lives. To make their lives big and rich and full and meaningful, however that might look for them.

Photo Emily Rapp ©Anne Staveley

Photo Cheryl Strayed ©Joni Kabana Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, March 2013: When her first child Ronan is diagnosed with Tay-Sachs disease, a rare terminal and degenerative illness, Emily Rapp is forced to meditate on one of life's cruelest questions: what does it mean for a parent to outlive her child? Rapp can't help but dwell on all the things that her son will never do--the full life that wasn't robbed from Ronan so much as it was never given. Still Point of the Turning World is brave and magnificently written. Though there are moments of levity, in some ways, it can be hard to recommend Still Point because Rapp's story is so overwhelmingly sad. ("Here," you might say, "why don't you read this and bawl your eyes out?") But this is a book that's honest and thoughtful, and we find that, like Rapp herself, enduring such heartbreak imbues us with a new sense of wisdom and courage. --Kevin Nguyen

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press; 1 edition (March 7, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594205124
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594205125
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (106 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #694,867 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

84 of 94 people found the following review helpful By Booky Galore on March 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book is actually comprised of literary paragraphs, with heavy references to philosophers and writers, but I had trouble finding actual narrative passages about Ronan, whose story I very much wanted to read after hearing the author interviewed. I cannot imagine the pain this mother went through, and she does write about that, but everything is framed in literary and philosophical context. The interview I heard was very powerful; Ronan's simple story, without intellectual trappings, is profoundly compelling. I wished the author had written as she talked. Reading this book was a bit like viewing an artistic masterpiece in a baroque and overwhelming frame that diminishes the seminal, powerful painting inside. Readers should simply be aware of the book's content; if they value literary essay-writing and philosophical discourse, this is the book for them. If they are interested in the specifics of Ronan's struggle with Tay-Sachs, it is intermittently present, but harder to find. The mother does not write about his actual death at all, after raising some searing abstract questions about how to allow a Tay-Sachs (or any) patient to die; so the reader hasn't a clue about what decisions the family made about Ronan's final care. The narrative simply falls off in midstream. That said, the mother/author certainly has every right to tell her story in her own way.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Kathleen Hartmann on April 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The January 2013 issue of Vogue has a synopsis of The Still Point of the Turning World. After first explaining how the author's son Ronan was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs (a terminal, degenerative, hereditary disease), the synopsis sketches the rest of the book as a very detailed account of the author's day to day life with her son and her husband. I thought after reading the Vogue synopsis that the book would show the reader the consequences of whatever interventions the author and her husband chose to pursue or not to pursue, as well as provide insights into the author's relationship with her husband during the course of their journey to the end of their son's life. Instead, the book focuses on the author's own musings on grief as she turns to her favorite works of literature to help her make sense of her the inevitable and devastating loss of Ronan.

This book is well written and a fast read. It does include a few beautiful moments between the author and her son. I particularly loved the details of the author hiking with her son, feeding him avocado and ice cream, and sitting on the couch listening to opera with him. But, I wish there were more of these moments. I also wanted to know more about how Ronan's diagnosis affected the author's relationship with her husband. The Vogue synopsis states that she wanted to have another child, but her husband did not. The book itself never mentions this. Finally, the author talks about how they only want the most minimal of interventions for her son and that they planned on declining a feeding tube (kiddos with Tay-Sachs eventually lose their ability to eat orally).

As a mother of a child with a life limiting disease on home hospice care, I was hoping for more details about the author's days with her son.
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36 of 42 people found the following review helpful By S. Rudin on March 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When I picked up this book, I expected a story: the facts, what it's like to live with a terminally ill child; what happens to him day-to-day and week-to-week and month-to-month; what it's like to interact with one's spouse, siblings, parents, friends, strangers, in such a consuming situation; what the person actually DID during that time. The book, however, contains very few such "facts", and instead focuses on what the author THOUGHT about and the insights she earned while struggling through her feelings and her "new" life. She's obviously highly intelligent, and I enjoyed her many references to literature and philosophy. However, personally, I prefer memoirs to contain detailed descriptions of actual daily life, and less abstract thought.

The book seems, at its core, to be a collection of thoughts and theories and words that are meaningful to the author, and therefore could prove meaningful to other people actively grieving or having some similar frame of reference. It may have been just too painful for her to actually describe what happened to her son, all of the things she had to move through and be present for, and I can definitely forgive her for that. Perhaps she was correct to teach her writing students that distance and objectivity is needed before a writer can faithfully describe a painful, emotional experience from his or her own life.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Leslie J. Kelsay on March 30, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Writing a less than positive review makes me feel like a bad person. After all, this is a highly educated, world traveled and world recognized author suffering the unknowable pain of the certain loss of her infant child. This is a thinking woman, and the book seems to be an almost random recording of her thoughts (Highly developed through philosophical and theological study both formal and informal) as she faces the certainty of death for her child. It is fragmented, dotted with what must be cogent references to scholarly essays on grief and sprinkled with her day-to-day life--a life that despite her son's terminal illness includes a writer's retreat in Spain. It is almost as if she devotes time to reading, studying and thinking about grief as a way to defer experiencing grief. This book seems written to serve the author rather than the reader. If that is the case, I hope it was truly therapeutic, although nothing can change the enormity of what this family has experienced and continues to face. Yet I hardly feel that I'm entitled to an opinion.
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