Customer Reviews: The Suicide Index: Putting My Father's Death in Order
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Wickersham takes a very tragic experience, applying a logical index to ungovernable feelings, penning a memoir of her father's suicide that is honest, painstaking and filled with emotional landmines. From the morning she receives the call from her distraught mother, to years later, still grappling with the complicated feelings- acceptable and unacceptable- that plague her life after this loss, the author exquisitely describes the long, dark torment of those left behind by such an act of self-annihilation. The first response, of course, is numbness, a soft-lensed vacuum that allows the family to survive the early days of shock, the outpouring of support from friends and relatives, with the occasional flash of inexplicable rage that lurks beneath the surface. It is the following years that dominate her grieving process, thinking and rethinking what could have been done to prevent the suicide, to intervene.

The elephant in the room, of course, is the undeniable violence of such an action, so heinous and selfish as to belie any daughter's memories of a loving, slightly eccentric father, a man carrying the scars of a brutal childhood and a lack of business sense that adversely affects his family's financial security. The bonds between this eldest daughter and her father are like steel cables; she favors him over her mother, with whom she has an uneasy, somewhat antagonistic relationship, especially after the suicide, the mother flapping wildly through her own jumble of confused emotions, both guilty and self-defensive, left pondering the interminable, unanswerable question: why? Although the author has a sister, it is the nature of such a loss that the sibling is hardly mentioned. This is an intense, solitary journey, an anguished, chronically self-obsessed need for answers, a patient husband dealing with the fall out years later.

Wickersham catalogs every nuance, every instinct, every possibility, trapped in a dilemma not of her own making, her life haunted years after the pivotal event. She is stuck, unable to move forward, happiness no longer a viable expectation. It is to this writer's credit that I continue to read this memoir: I didn't particularly like her father or his final resolution to overwhelming problems. On the other hand, neither have I experienced the kind of bond shared by this man and his daughter. No, I was in it for the experience, willing to follow wherever Wickersham might lead. If she has the courage to flay her soul in search of answers, who am I to shy away? "It's a crooked, looping, labyrinthine story." Indeed, it is and one with no easy answers or facile resolutions. I hope this troubled man appreciated his extraordinary child and her capacity for compassion. I doubt I would have been as forgiving. Luan Gaines/ 2008.
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on July 7, 2008
Every once in a while a book comes along that you know will be classic. Such a book is Joan Wickersham's eloquent and honest account of her father's suicide. The book works brilliantly on a number of levels. It is a deeply moving work that sheds great light on the ripple effects of a suicide. Wickersham's writing is so captivating that you feel like you're taking this journey with her, right in the present moment. Beyond this, "The Suicide Index" is an exploration into how we construct and reconstruct our past to make sense of our lives. The use of the index is so integral to the telling of this story it's impossible to see how any other format would have worked. All of this is to say that the book will obviously appeal to those touched by suicide, but it should also be required reading for anyone interested in the memoir. "The Suicide Index" is a rare find these days: a truly original piece of literature.
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on August 2, 2008
One of the edgiest topics for the human being to explain to oneself, let alone set down for an audience : suicide. Perhaps easier if one's own intended is the story but this is a father's suicide taken on by his eldest and perhaps favorite daughter.

Joan Wickersham does something brilliant and highly original in what is both a journal and a once-upon-a-time consideration of a man's life.

In compelling yet often dispassionate and sometimes hilarious chapters, Wickersham considers the facts about her family's biographical and social, bodily and geographical conditions as clues to the inevitability of this death.

In an almost seamless and well-paced manner, Wickersham makes it possible for the reader easily to join her in turning over pieces of clothing, pastry, furniture, or trinkets with the possibility always present that there is not just an explanation for this tragedy but an (imaginary) reversal of the fact that this man has willingly removed himself forever from life.

This is the story of a mid-20th century individual set before us by the writer's ease with which she slips contemporary events in with narratives about a disparate cast of artistic, impractical, cruel, aristocratic, and forceful forebearers. She offers us the earnest 1950's Americans and their aspirations in the post WW II business world alongside the disengaged WASP yacht and horse set of 1980's; the uncertain intimacy of the psychiatrist's quiet, with a tremulous, frustrated mother's voice to an inarticulate, depressed young child.

And we are taken to both dark or comic corners : the anatomically specific autopsy report read by a daughter of her father's body, an unconventional Dance institute performance by an aging doyenne observed by an embarrassed father and granddaughter; we meet the dopplegangers of her father who Wickersham embraces, as well as her plump, self-deluding mother who perpetuates failures of romance even in her years of decrepitude.

Wickersham has a particularly clever but highly original take on certain quarters of American life - early 20th century cultural immigrants, the educated and aspiring of the Eastcoast, the perserverance of children faced with the incomprehesible, with abandonment. But this is not a sappy tale nor leaden, but it's a dense one which moves quickly and somehow, like the daughter-writer, we want one more chapter; we don't seem to want an end to the facts of a suicide.

Helpfully, she incorporates a strong bibliographic epilogue of Western writers on the topic of suicide, couching the auto-biographical issue with which she is faced, in sturdy, graceful objectivity.

The reader easily comes along on every page with this reluctant, brave, and highly intelligent daughter as she attempts to assume and then banish responsibility for her parent's suicide.
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on October 5, 2008
All memoirs are about memory; but suicide poses a special challenge. As Joan Wickersham writes: "When you kill yourself, you kill every memory anyone has of you." And later: "If you shoot yourself, you are labeled as a suicide. Your death becomes your definition." The Suicide Index starts when Wickersham's father kills himself; it goes backward in time, exploring his past like a detective; and then it carries us forward to show what this mysterious and destructive act did to her family. The writing is spare, but vivid - every word counts, every scene comes alive. The chapters are arranged alphabetically, in index format. It's a device that gains power as the book proceeds; it gives a shape to all the different stories that Wickersham tells us, and all the different ways she has of telling them. In her book Wickersham has met the challenge of suicide: she has restored her memory of her father, and in some sense restored his life. The Suicide Index is, quite simply, the most powerful and original memoir I've ever read.
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on August 12, 2008
Looking at the book's title and the reviews, I couldn't bear to think anyone out there might miss out on the Suicide Index or think it's not for them if they haven't experienced the suicide of someone close to them. This is a beautiful, most real account--I can't shake it--of all that's human, family, love and loss, being a child and a parent. Joan Wickersham has found a brilliant way to tell the truth about one of the hardest things for human nature to tell the truth about: We can't make sense of death, attempts to index are futile. Which is why this perfect book is anything but. I went back and bought her novel the Paper Anniversary and can't wait to see what Wickersham can do with fiction, too.
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on July 13, 2008
Memoirist Joan Wickersham gives us a gift by including us in her effort to sort out the heartbreaking tangle left by her father's suicide. I loved the index format of the book, and found myself frozen at times by situations similar to some in my life (which, I think will happen for everyone who reads the book). Her seemingly fearless honesty about her thoughts and feelings around her father's death and how it changed her perspective on everything is infused with humor that perfectly hit my funny bone time and time again. Joan Wickersham has somehow managed to make a book about suicide a joy to read. A joy because she doesn't simply focus on the horror and pain of it, but also on the love, acceptance, and endurance of her spirit. I could not put it down!
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on July 17, 2008
Joan Wickersham has written the kind of book that makes you want to pick it up again and again and ask, HOW did she do that? It is so thoughtful, clever, funny, touching, so beautifully written and so brilliantly and originally structured that it gives those of us tired of the memoir renewed faith in the form. It's a triumph.
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on August 12, 2008
Joan Wickersham's The Suicide Index: Putting My Father's Death in Order is best described as engaging, gripping and candid.

Wickersham leads us through her father's final moments. She reveals details of this confusing tragedy in a family's life--suicide. Those who commit suicide leave loved ones with a black hole of unanswerable questions. Anyone who has been touched by suicide knows the pain of never fully understanding or resolving this aspect of life.

The author seeks to unravel the mystery of her father's suicide by investigating anyone who knew him. She reflects on her own memories, both as a child and an adult to find reason for his drastic act of selfishness. As much as we'd like to know everything about those closest to us, there are limitations. Can we really comprehend the mind of someone else?

Gently and transparently Wickersham reveals her phases of denial, anger, hopelessness and grief. She searches for a murderer, rejecting the idea that her father would have ended his life. She wishes blame on her mother, her father's business partners and associates. Was it a jealous neighbor? A so-called friend? Finding no answers, she settles that her father did take his own life-and he left no clues.

Wickersham struggles to live daily life as a mother and wife, sister and daughter, as everything comes into question. Is it all a lie? Does she view her father through rose-colored glasses? Did he suffer an undetected medical condition?

Walking the high road of inspection and low road of introspection simultaneously, I must agree with the author that suicide is difficult to understand. The search for answers is evasive and frustrating. I discovered along with Wickersham the conspicuous void in my family album left by one who committed suicide. Nevertheless, life goes on.

Armchair Interviews says: A book worth reading for anyone whose life has been affected by suicide.
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on January 4, 2009
Although this is primarily a book that dissects a suicide (the author's father's) it is so much more. Like Holden Caulfield, who when he was done reading a book wishes the author was a terrific friend of his and that he could call him up on the phone whenever he felt like it, I hated to let Joan Wickersham go. I so enjoyed getting to know her funny and brave mother, her mother's meddlesome gay friend, her bright, stalwart husband and especially her damaged, sensitive, ill-fated father. This book transcends its topic and lets the reader occupy a carefully examined life for too short a time.
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on May 9, 2014
This memoir is a beautifully written account of a daughter's attempt to understand why her father committed suicide. Wickersham offers many insights about why he committed such an act, and the profound effects that it had on her and her family. As she sorts through things, she presents a picture of a kind, but complicated man--one who sincerely loved his family, but was driven by demons of his own. Wickersham protrays her father in such a vivid way, that, as I read, I kept thinking I would have liked to have known him. While she does not find the answers she is looking for, she has the satisfaction of knowledge gained from in-depth exploration. She learns so many things about her father that she did not know before, but her final message is that to truly know another person, even a beloved family member, is no easy task. It may even be impossible. The topic, per se, is a sad one, but the tone of the book is probing, loving, reflective, and comforting. The book reminds me of one of my favorite lines in the book and film, A River Runs Through it, when the father and brother of a young man who has died under violent circumstances, talk after his death, and one of them says somthing to this effect: " You do not have to understnd someone to love him."
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