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This Wild Darkness: The Story of My Death Paperback – Bargain Price, September 30, 1997
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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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While some author's faced with the act of dying fill pages of memoirs with remorse, Brodkey instead shares his own experiences freely - from a very honest account of his contraction of the disease, to a discussion of his sexuality, a discussion that spends the majority of time in praise of his wife Ellen, to his thoughts on the act of dying. His discussions about his physician Barry who informs him of his diagnosis is a story within a story and one not at all unlike the author's novels. But perhaps those of us who deeply admire Harold Brodkey's gifts can find special meaning in some of his last thoughts: 'I regret having been so polite in the past. I'd like to trample on at least a dozen people. Maybe I will live long enough to do just that before I waste away to the point where I can't trample on a goose feather. Anyway, I have been in bed, in the fetal position, for two weeks. I wish were young. I am sick of leaves and fresh air. Nature doesn't seem serious enough, or rather it seems TOO serious on the death front.' And the final sentences from this book: 'Peace? There was never any in the world. But in the pliable water, under the sky, unmoored, I am traveling now and hearing myself laugh, at first with nerves and then with genuine amazement. It is all around me.'
This book is a gift for the living: reading it makes the ordinary aspects of living so divine. Grady Harp, January 10
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.