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The Suicide Index: Putting My Father's Death in Order Paperback – Bargain Price, June 23, 2009

4.7 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In spare prose, Wickersham (The Paper Anniversary) has produced an artful and vivid memoir. Within the index of suicide, she has found a form capacious enough for both intimate detail and general information; cold data and lyric moments; for mystery and for consolation. As she follows her father's suicide chronologically from his death through a passage of 15 years, she doubles back through family history (her mother's, her father's, her husband's), telling the story under such subheads as anger about, other people's stories about, possible ways to talk to a child about, romances of mother in years following. Her search takes in matters as mundane as the police investigation, as academic as the nature of biography and as disquieting as the issue of suicide. The elementary facts—when, where, and how—are straightforward, even simple: My father got up early one morning, went into his study, and shot himself, but her pursuit of why leads Wickersham and her reader into the unanswerable questions [and] unresolvable paradoxes that give her book classic qualities. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.



Written in the form of an index, an acknowledgment of Wickersham’s inability to frame her father’s act in any conventional linear form, this memoir is written in a cool, economical and ultimately piercing style utterly devoid of easy pathos or cliché. Anyone prone to facile dismissal of the memoir as literary high art should be silenced by the perfection of Wickersham's prose and her ability to hold the facts and her feelings up to the light, turning them again and again to reveal yet another facet of grief, anger, love, pity and guilt.

-- Laura Miller, Salon.com

[A] remarkable memoir. . . she exposes the whole messy territory of inheritance, of heritage, of what our families leave us, the treacherous trail of genetics and psychology and unhappiness, the legacy of all those generations as they play out in ways that we can see and ways that we will never see across the patterns of our lives. . . true in a way that transcends mere recollection . . . (S)he arrives at an almost perfect balance, producing a survivor's story, a portrait of suicide from the outside, one that finds clarity in its inability to be clarified.

-- David Ulin, Los Angeles Times

Honest, brave, incredibly moving, and completely unflinching in its honesty. It’s one of those rare books that will haunt you for a long time after you finish it. . . . Wickersham's writing is gorgeous, restrained and lyrical at the same time, and there's not an extraneous word or ounce of fat in the book. In trying to comprehend what happened, Wickersham uses the format of an index, in an attempt to impose an order and shape on what appears to be a chaotic, perhaps random, act of her father's. . . . [An] amazing memoir.

-- Nancy Pearl, KUOW / National Public Radio

Joan Wickersham’s deceptively simple organization of this volume packs a hard jab to the throat, and I found myself alternately holding my breath and looking away from the words on the page in stunned silence, Reading this book is a physical act – of beauty, of pain and of frankness. The sections on writing and truth are some of the finest I’ve seen.

- Kelly McMasters, Newsday

Joan Wickersham's deeply moving memoir seeks to comprehend the incomprehensible . . . What propels every intensely crafted page of this book is Wickersham's relentless drive to comprehend her father's suicide . . . Wickersham has journeyed into the dark underworld inside her father and herself, and has emerged with a powerful, gripping story.

-- Chuck Leddy, Boston Globe

[A] daughter's piercing and profoundly considered response to [her father’s] death. She constructs her book like a series of index cards, with chapter headings that mimic those on outlines. It becomes a brilliant choice, allowing Wickersham to flip and sort through 15 years of what William Maxwell observed when he wrote, ‘The suicide doesn't go alone, he takes everybody with him.’ . . . Against the violent transgression of suicide, Wickersham has crafted a consummately subtle book. . . . In its discipline and art, The Suicide Index has the feel of a classic.

-- Karen Long, Cleveland Plain Dealer

I read The Suicide Index with a rapacity bordering on need, with tears in my chest and in my eyes. Occasionally I had to put it down and leave the room. More often, I devoured it. The book is . . . the measured, elegant, gripping work of a professional writer who has set her powers of observation to work on her own family — her parents and grandparents, her uncle, her sister, her husband, her son — and on herself.

-- Laura Collins-Hughes, New York Sun

[A]n extraordinary, magical mystery tour of a book.

-- Heller McAlpin, Los Angeles Times

What makes the narrative so compelling is not only Wickersham’s gift for making her memories sing as though they were our own, but also how she presents herself as a willful seeker, open to any and all incarnations of truth, able to admit how much she doesn’t know and never did. . . . in this very moving memoir, Wickersham comes as close as she’s able to getting it right.

-- Elle

In spare prose, Wickersham has produced an artful and vivid memoir . . . capacious enough for both intimate detail and general information; cold data and lyric moments; for mystery and for consolation. The elementary facts – where, when, and how – are straightforward, even simple . . but her pursuit of "why" leads Wickersham and her reader into the "unanswerable questions and unresolvable paradoxes" that give her book classic qualities.

-- Publishers Weekly

This book is beautifully written and haunts the reader long after it’s closed.

-- Library Journal

[A] sensitive and thorough memoir built around her father's suicide and the mystery of why he did it. It is both haunting and comforting to see how she puts her father's death "in order."

-- Knoxvillle News Sentinel

She writes beautifully. . . about the amount of sheer space a suicide takes in the lives of surviving family members, from the moment of death through the weeks, months and years afterward. . . . Bleak, strong and fiercely honest.

-- Reeve Lindbergh, Washington Post

In this harrowing, beautifully written memoir, Joan Wickersham tries to understand the forces that drove her father to take his own life. Part detective story, part anguished examination of a family, The Suicide Index traces the myriad repercussions suicide has not only on the future but also on the past. A powerful, important book.

-- Abigail Thomas, author of A Three Dog Life

The Suicide Index is just astonishing. Having endured the suicide of a close family member, I opened this book with dread and longing: fearful of revisiting so much pain yet keenly wanting, as I always will, to understand why. No one can ever fully answer the question that suicide remains for those left behind, yet here, in Joan Wickersham’s exquisitely straightforward story, I found surprising consolation. It is a love story, a mystery, a quiet tragedy, a dark comedy, and a profoundly absorbing modern family saga. It will stay with me for a very long time.

-- Julia Glass, author of Three Junes and I See You Everywhere


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (June 23, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156033801
  • ASIN: B002SB8MWM
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.2 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,825,293 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on July 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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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