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This Wild Darkness: The Story of My Death Hardcover – October 1, 1996

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 177 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt & Co; 1st edition (October 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805048316
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805048315
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,002,727 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

It is possible not to care for Harold Brodkey's obsessive, digressive, almost plotless fiction and still be moved by this memoir of his last sufferings until his death, in mid-1996, of AIDS. Brodkey was a writer for whom style was everything, but in his own implacable and untimely mortality he found a subject before which style was nothing. In this assemblage of essays, journal entries, and brief notes, he confronts his illness from a clinical perspective without losing his ironic tone or his genius for minutiae. In a sense, Brodkey wrote nothing but autobiography throughout his career; this, then, is a fitting final chapter.

From Publishers Weekly

"This is how my life ended. And how my dying began." So wrote Brodkey, a novelist (The Runaway Soul) and short-story writer, after he was diagnosed with AIDS in the spring of 1993. He died in the fall of 1995, at the age of 65. Parts of this record of those last years were published in the New Yorker while he was still alive, against the advice of his doctor, who believed that people who keep their disease secret often live longer. But Brodkey could not stand the pretense (or "lies," as he calls it) of keeping silent. The result is, in effect, the last words of a skillful writer who was fully prepared to be entertained?or at least instructed?by his own death. Set in Manhattan, Venice and the northern Catskill Mountains, the memoir combines autobiography (a St. Louis childhood, earlier brushes with death, sexual abuse by his stepfather, homosexual love affairs) with reports on the progress of the disease and thoughts on subjects that range from optimism, sexual myth and the American cult of male irresponsibility to the joy of escaping into dreams and a newly discovered delight?mixed with terror over the possible danger?in kissing his wife. Accepting illness, he learns, is more difficult than accepting death. Toward the end, Brodkey writes: "I had expected death to glimmer with meaning, but it doesn't. It's just there." It's "boring." Readers of this remarkable record may be repelled or moved or fascinated, but few will be bored.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Harold Brodkey (1930-1996) was born Aaron Roy Weintrub into a Midwestern Jewish family. Both of his parents were recent immigrants from Russia, and after the death of his mother when he was not yet two years old, he was adopted by the Brodkeys, who were cousins on his father's side. After graduating from Harvard in 1952, he moved to New York and came to prominence as a writer in the early 1950s, publishing collections such as Stories in an Almost Classical Mode and novels including Profane Friendship. Widely acknowledged as a modern master of short fiction, and the winner of two PEN/O. Henry Awards, Brodkey contributed regularly to the New Yorker and other publications. A long-time resident of New York City, Brodkey was married to novelist Ellen Schwamm. He announced in 1993 that he had contracted AIDS, and he died of complications from the virus in 1996.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Eric Krupin on March 12, 2002
Format: Paperback
Sitting in the office of an English professor whose opinions I respect, I noticed he had Harold Brodkey's chef d'oeuvre - the 30 years in the writing "The Runaway Soul" - wedged in his crowded shelves. Remembering how my initial fascination with that novel was drowned by the bewildering and ultimately awful *too-muchness* of that book, I asked the professor what he made of Brodkey. "He's insane, of course," was the ready reply.
Well, that might be oversimplifying the matter, but on re-reading "This Wild Darkness" recently, I decided that, for all its occasional brilliance in describing what it feels like to be inside a dying body, the professor's comment tells more of the story than it might seem at first glance - enough certainly for anyone who approaches Brodkey with a not unreasonable degree of skepticism. All too often, the author's observations about others and - his great subject - himself, have a strong whiff of delusional unreality about them. When he says that his "irresistability" as a young man was such that it led to people trying to abduct him, I simply don't believe him. The great James Salter, in his own memoir, remembers the younger, on-the-make, Brodkey-in-the-Sixties as a "troublemaker" and that sounds convincingly right.
And yet Brodkey must have had something going for him all those years when he managed to convince a few influential tastemakers that he was an unheralded genius and I believe he did. His mature style - a heterogenous mix of colloquial intimacy and ambitious abstraction - was truly unique and, at its occasional best, as surpassingly expressive as his literary padrones claimed. "This Wild Darkness", composed during a terminal illness, understandably does not represent this style at its highest pitch but it is still something that absolutely no one else could have written. That just might be achievement enough.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 21, 1998
Format: Paperback
Harold Brodkey admits that he is not an easy person to like. It also appears that it was not easy for him to live inside his own skin. But during the three years that he lived with the knowledge that he would die from AIDS, he strove to look, unflichingly, into the face of death. Like the rest of us, he could not always endure the truth. He did, however, write a report from the land of the terminally ill that is unsentimental and painful, with occasional flashes of illumination.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Kristin Summerlin on May 17, 1998
Format: Hardcover
And Brodkey's humanity shines foremost in this simple book. Knocked off-balance by his diagnosis, Brodkey uses words to find his way through the "death experience." Sometimes tongue-in-cheek, more often matter-of-fact, Brodkey examines his impending death as he lives it. Without excessive sentimentality, clear-eyed. And not always "attractive." But honest as dirt.
It seems Brodkey learns that style matters little. And that is the source of true style.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Gooch McCracken on June 25, 2005
Format: Paperback
From Julian Barnes's introduction to IN THE LAND OF PAIN: "When Harold Brodkey's heroic--and, it seemed, heroically self-deceiving--account of his own dying was published in THE NEW YORKER, I congratulated the magazine's editor for 'leaving it all in', by which I meant the evidence of Brodkey's impressive egomania. 'You should have seen what we took out', she replied wryly."

Leave it to Barnes to turn up his needlenose at Brodkey's self-described sexual "irresistibility". As far as I'm concerned, if Little Sexpot Brodkey was constantly pawed at by his adoptive father, that alone gives Brodkey the right to call himself irresistible. I'm impressed that Brodkey endured *that* scenario (let alone AIDS) without succumbing to suicide. I just wish he had omitted the pointless sidetrip to Venice.

From THIS WILD DARKNESS: "For a day I had a kind of fever with chills and sweats but with body temperature *below* normal, at 96 degrees." Technically, that couldn't have been a fever but rather a case of mild hypothermia. Or maybe not. I'm not up on the subject.

Ya know how boremongers like Steve Martin & Woody Allen are always doing that New-York-versus-Los-Angeles shtick? Well, Harold took the cake with the following generalization: "New York was the capital of American sexuality, the one place in America where you could get laid with some degree of sophistication, and so Peggy Guggenheim and Andre Breton had come here during the war, whereas Thomas Mann, who was shy, and Igor Stravinsky, who was pious, had gone to Los Angeles, which is the best place for voyeurs."

Life is a big blank. That's the most overwhelming impression that I've gotten from life. The fact that life is a big blank. The fact that there are no theological answers. I call it The Big Blank-Out.
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