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Imperfect Endings: A Daughter's Tale of Life and Death Hardcover – March 2, 2010

4.7 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

After living with Parkinson’s for 20 years, Carter’s headstrong mother, Margaret, decides she wants to end her life—and have her three daughters by her side when she goes. It’s a decision that leaves Carter, the youngest and long the favorite child, in distress. Will her mother really go through with it, and if so, how soon? Margaret, it turns out, has already contacted the Hemlock Society. Bookshelves loaded with literature about death and dying further attest to her convictions. Carter, who lives in Northern California, frequently visits Margaret in Georgetown, doing her best to stay composed. (It’s especially difficult when her mother keeps changing the date on which she wants to die.) Eldest sibling Katherine distances herself from the situation, while sister Hannah is a reliable source of moral and emotional support. Carter alternates the account of her mother’s final months with chapters about her childhood, complete with tales of sibling rivalries and her alcoholic, womanizing father. Carter tackles a depressing subject with dark humor and heart. --Allison Block


“Carter coaxes beauty from the bleak in this book about the months after Margaret, who has Parkinson’s, tells her three girls she plans to ‘end things’ and wants them to be there when she does. Ultimately, in losing her, Carter finds a mother she never thought she’d know.” People

“Carter’s memoir about her terminally ill mother’s decision to end her own life becomes a bittersweet tale of how Carter and her sisters coped with their mother’s botched efforts, their own sibling rivalries, the ongoing controversy over assisted suicide, and the hard, final task of acceptance.”—Elle

"An engaging and insightful tale of familial love, understanding, and forgiveness, shot through with a surprising amount of wit."The Boston Globe

"I could quote from the book all day. . . but instead I’ll just recommend that those intrigued by the subject spend a little time with the ailing but ferocious Margaret and her daughters. A decision to die can sound romantic or it can sound repugnant. Carter shows us what it was like in reality."—Paula Span, The New York Times.com

“The questions that rise from her story are urgent, important and timely…sharply focused, engaged with essential ethical questions…the end of the book is so full of grace and acceptance that one might forget the memoir began with such urgent, roaring questions.”San Francisco Chronicle

"Zoe Carter is a luminous writer with a dramatic story to tell. With wisdom, poetry and dark humor, Zoe describes her ailing mother's courageous decision to end her life. In years to come, plenty of sons and daughters will face the same moral and practical dilemmas as Zoe's family; Imperfect Endings, with its wit and love, will provide an invaluable resource, as well as remain a fascinating, fabulously compelling read." —Jennifer Finney Boylan, author of She's Not There and I'm Looking Through You

"In her wise and moving memoir, journalist Zoe Carter tackles a difficult subject -- her mother's decision to end her own life after years of severe illness. Under what circumstances can her family make peace with this choice? Many of us will find ourselves facing this kind of dilemma as our parents move towards death, and I cannot imagine a better guide than this thoughtful, compassionate book." —Julie Metz, author of Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal

"I love this book! Zoe Carter has taken what could be a very sad story and turned it into something beautiful and incredibly insightful. Her portrayal of her mother is wonderful, and reveals in moving and illuminating detail a slice of Washington life." —Kate Lehrer, author of Confessions of a Bigamist: A Novel

"First-time memoirist Carter comes close to perfection in this chronicle of her mother’s quest to orchestrate her own assisted suicide. . . .With surprising humor and sensitivity, Carter presents the struggle to come to terms with mortality and family dynamics."—Library Journal (starred review)

"A poignant memoir."Kirkus Reviews

“Carter tackles a depressing subject with dark humor and heart.”Booklist

"Imperfect Endings raises difficult questions about love and loyalty, but it is written with such style and sympathy that it is difficult to put down.”San Francisco Chronicle.com

"A beautifully written story of pain and loss, spiked with subtle humor and gentle wisdom."—Judy Bachrach, thecheckoutline.org

"Articulate and exceptionally written, focusing on humor and emotional honesty. . . . It's quite a wonderful experience to read about Margaret's life and, in the end, [Imperfect Endings] becomes a tribute to a lovely woman who made a brave choice. . . . If you read this, you will never forget it."—Bookreporter.com

"Death, by definition, is final. . . . [T]he process of dying is where the real pain, physical and emotional, lies. Carter expertly examines this turmoil and all its accompanying angst, frustration, resentment and introspection. . . . The depth and breadth of the analysis sets this book apart."—CultureMob.com

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1 edition (March 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439148244
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439148242
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,079,733 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By N. B. Kennedy TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I couldn't in my wildest dreams have imagined a book like this! A book about a debilitated mother's determination to end her life and enlist the help of her daughters to do so. But here it is, and it's a captivating story told by one of the daughters, Zoe Fitzgerald Carter.

For Carter, the experience is emotionally draining. She is repeatedly dragged to her mother's bedside from the opposite coast, the date and method of "self-delivery" continually changing. They meet with a volunteer from the Hemlock Society, the "guide" who would ensure the suicide is effective, and to intervene and finish the job if it is not. The scenes between the mother, her daughters, her caregivers and friends are almost surreal, as the mother's determination grows and she lets more and more people in on her plan.

Carter and her sisters struggle to get their mother to see that her plan endangers their lives, leaving them vulnerable to prosecution and imprisonment. Not only that, but they want her to see that they love her and don't want her to die. Isn't that enough for her? Apparently not, a reality that sends the author into even more tangents of grief. Does her mother not even love them enough to stay around for them?

This is an acutely observed and finely written story. I literally could not put the book down. The reader comes to understand everyone's point of view, roots for both mother and daughters, can't imagine how the struggle will end. At first, I was put off by the author's anger, her snarkiness, her brusque treatment of her mother and even her ennui. But then I turned the situation in on myself: How would I react if it were me in her place? No better, I'm sure.
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Format: Hardcover
Zoe Carter writes a beautiful story about how she and her two sisters helped her mother die. No, they didn't help her die - "assisted suicide" - but sat with her in the summer of 2001 as she stopped eating and drinking. Margeret, Zoe's mother, had been suffering for years from Parkinson's and other ailments that were not getting better, even with medication. Margeret decided to end her life and tried to involve her three daughters - two cooperating more than the third - in assisted suicide from the Hemlock Society. After receiving a visit from the Hemlock Society's "facilitator", the three decided not to use the method he advised - basically taking helium through a mask. They "flirted" with using drugs like Seconal and morphine, but in the end, Margeret decided to stop eating and drinking. (Though she did try and fail a morphine overdose during her starvation period.)

Carter's book is half "current" and half flashback, as she writes about her parents (and their parents), her sisters, and her husband and two daughters. It's a well written book.

As an aside, I noticed that at least half of the five star reviews Carter's book has received on this site come from people living in California and Vermont and this is their only Amazon review. California - where Zoe Carter lives now with her family, and Vermont, where her family had a summer house. Ummm...
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Imperfect Endings: A Daughters Tale of Life and Death" by Zoe Fitzgerald Carter is a brave and important memoir on many levels. It's a remarkable story about Zoe, the care-giver's journey as a daughter, wife, and mother and a tribute to the joys and sorrows of her parents and two sisters. It also highlights the moral and practical dilemmas around Margaret, her mother's desire for an assisted suicide with her daughters present. Her mother said she was tired of living with Parkinson's disease and did not want to go where the illness was taking her.
As Zoe, "the good daughter," and her two older sisters negotiate their mother's choice old animosities and alliances are stirred up. Also memories of their now deceased father's alcoholism and philandering and their mother's strength, beauty and co-dependence.
Zoe's poetic writing captures the agony of ambivalence. Disapproving of her mother's determination to die yet wanting to support her. Understanding she's in pain yet wanting her around. Zoe confesses, "I've come to view this constant, inexplicable tenderness in my back as a physical manifestation of my mother...I've been hauling her around for so long, it feels like a part of me, an extra limb, so familiar I barely notice it."
When Zoe is unable to convince her mother to abandon her plans she supports her as best she can by helping her explore different suicide methods such as a lethal dose of drugs from a psychiatrist, meeting a representative from the Hemlock Society and refusing food and water.
"Imperfect Endings" is a powerful, passionate and uplifting story about love and letting go.
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Format: Hardcover
I picked up this book and read the first page-and could not stop reading. Zoe Carter writes beautifully about the mother daughter connection, both with her daughters and the impending loss of her mother(with a big huge twist.)

Honest, frightening, heartwarming, funny (very funny) and thought provoking.
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Zoe Carter's memoir about her mother's decision to die is a beautifully written account of
dealing with a charming and maddeningly headstrong parent wrestling with the end of life.
It is also much more: a fascinating family history, chapters alternating between the author's recollections
of her childhood and her account of her mother's final days; a moving meditation on the ironies
of family dynamics--how our past shapes us, and we shape our children's futures; and a detailed evocation of
a particular kind of life in a particular time and place. She grapples with the complex and ambiguous issues
that will become ever more commonplace as an aging population faces life being extended beyond the
capacity to live it in dignity and comfort. I recommend it highly. WG LOCKE
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