Jill Bialosky (2015 [2012]) History Of A Suicide my sister’s unfinished life.

history of a suicide

This book left me cold. I read an extract of the story of these sisters in The Observer a while back, one living and the other dead. I was intrigued.  I know what I’m supposed to feel. What I’m supposed to say. But it feels a bit like someone leaning over the garden fence and saying yada, yada, yada and I’m saying yeh, yeh, yeh. That’s true. You’re right. I wish I’d thought of that.

In the first act of J.B.Priestley’s An Inspector Calls stasis is undermined in this interchange:

GERALD [laughs]: You seem to be a nice well-behaved family –

BIRLING: We think we are –

In sum, we have the Anna Karenina principle. All happy families are alike. All unhappy families are unhappy in their own way. In ‘Opening Words’, each chapter is Bialosky’s book are bite sized, she draws her family in Cleveland in 1970 for the reader. Kim, who commits suicide is the youngest. Laura, Cindy and the author Jill are more than a decade older than their sister. Their father, a Jewish immigrant died when they were infants and their mother re-married an Irish Catholic. Kim father didn’t last. He’s the villain of the piece who left them in relative poverty, and also left their mother for another woman. Kim was lost baggage, left behind, but with her mother and three surrogate mothers in her elder sisters. She lacked a father figure to nurture her. It belittled her. Set her back in  ways that didn’t affect her sisters. I’m not sure why.  That’s one of the arguments the book makes. Jill finds confirmation in Dr Sheidman prognosis, an amateur Herman Melville fan and eminent sucidiologist who quotes Moby Dick to her:

There is no unretracing progress in this life…we do not advance through fixed gradations. But once gone through, we trace the round again; and are infants, boys, and men, and Ifs eternally.

As the Inspector says:

what happened to her then may have determined what happened to her afterwards, and what happened to her afterwards may have driven her to suicide. A chain of events.

I don’t have a problem with eternal ifs. Temporality, is always dateable. Jonathan Lear, in Radical Hope, quotes Heidegger – a time when. A time when Kim made her last phone call to her sister Jill. A time when Jill lost her baby in the first trimester. A time when Jill lost her second baby, snatched away from life. A time when Kim, with her mum sleeping upstairs,  shuts the garage door and starts the car engine. A time when the boy that’s being paid twenty dollars to cut the grass hears the car engine idling and opens the garage door to carbon monoxide. A time when two police officers stand at the foot of her mother’s bed and tell her there’s no hope. Her youngest daughter is dead.

I don’t have a problem with no hope and its causal link to suicide or even references to Sylvia Plath, Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf, William Styron and Darkness Visible. It seems rather obvious. Those without hope seek a way out. Life gets in the way. But what I found myself doing was saying no.

Jill, for example, says, ‘I should have told her that I once loved a boy, too.’ She has an annoying habit of making statements like that and interjecting drama with the added clause, ‘too’. That would have saved her Inspector?

In ‘Last Dance’ as author she constructs a narrative. ‘In my mind’s eye…Kim…Dabbed her eyes with musk. Wore her favourite jeans and a sexy black top, convinced she would see Alan’.

Alan was Kim’s on-off boyfriend. He also killed himself. It’s part of the narrative, his death and her death. Romeo and Juliet. But I don’t buy it. It’s too pat. Life’s too messy.

‘But he wasn’t there. Not him. Not anyone. Longing consumed her.’ I find that very Mills and Boons.

‘Maybe someone leaned over the bar to talk to her.’ Maybe they didn’t, I interject.

‘Hey, you look cute. Wanna do a line in the bathroom?’

If an Inspector called how many suspects would he find with such bland conjecture? For every ‘maybe’ or ‘possibly’ I overwrite with maybe not. When history become a made-up story then is it history? Or something else? I’m unconvinced. Life is for the living. Perhaps that is the lesson of the Jewish Shiva mourning period. Perhaps that is the lesson of religion. I’m not sure. I’m never sure. Not in the grief-stricken way that Jill Bialosky is. I’m not sure. Not sure.


William Styron (2010) the Suicide Run

The Suicide Run has an adjunct: ‘Five Tales of the Marine Corps’. They are autobiographical short stories. In ‘My Father’s House,’ for example, begins ‘One morning in the year after the end of the war (the Good War, that is, the second War to End all Wars) when I returned to my father’s house in Virginia, and had slept long merciful hours…’ Note the world weariness, the sarcasm (the War to End all Wars, was, of course, The First World War) yet we know this is a young man, a soldier and now a civilian, his civic duty having being honourably completed. He should be at ease with himself. But as we know from Darkness Visible William Styron is never a man at ease with himself.

That unease is visible here and runs through the tales like the lettering in a stock of rock. Here he tells us about the barn-like Palace Cafe, but like any good story-teller tells us more about himself. ‘I loved the Palace Cafe. And I loved getting drunk there. Its therapy lay in the power of the four of five beers that I guzzled to ease, almost after the first half bottle, the racking misery of my time in the Pacific.’ Sex, for any young man, was a constant preoccupation, Darlynne Fulcher (listen to the name, no other description is needed, although he does give one) his favourite waitress is at that safe age, over 40, when she’s not really a woman but a shoulder to cry on. ‘She plopped down a beer: “You look like you need some pussy.” It was not at all a come-on; in fact, I realized it was a way to break the ice…’   

The good war, the Second World War is juxtaposed with the story before it, which gives the book it’s name: ‘The Suicide Run’. In a book about war -and the utter futility of war- you would think it would be a tale of derring do, great courage and sacrifice. The Suicide Run, however, is an escape from camp with his fellow office Lacy’s in the latter’s ‘spunky’ Citroen. They both have in a sense been duped. They’ve served their time in the killing fields off the islands off Japan and had prepared themselves, as best they could, for their inevitable death when the bugle call came to invade mainland Japan. The atomic bomb was something of a miracle, saving their lives. Lacy had acquired a French wife and built up a thriving business. Styron was a man of leisure, a writer, with the success of his first novel, all but guaranteed. Yet, both, with the promise of promotion to First Lieutenant,  and no formal training in the Reserve Marine Corp needed, or expected, were granted an annuity, a bibelot,  that was too good to turn down. Then came Korea and a casualty list in which officers were shipped in and out with a name tag on their toes so quickly it wasn’t worthwhile for  other officers to learn the novice’s names.  Lacy and Styron, if they were going to die, at least wanted to bathe themselves in and plough as much pussy as they could in their time off. Lacy had a wife. Styron cuckolded the wife of a friend. There’s no honour in war. An 800 mile run there and back with no sleep, in between, was just crazy. But there’s crazy and there’s crazy. William Styron in measured prose shows what it means to be a man and a marine.

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