Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Comfort by Ann Hood

Photo: from Ann Hood's webpage, here.

When a 5-year old child dies...Well, I can't really even finish the sentence, much less write a book about it.  Such loss is inexplicable.  It is impossible to imagine, even by a person like Hood who makes her living from her literary imagination.  The talent to do so must be immense.

You have to do honor to yourself, your own emotions, the child, to the death, to the reality of how it happened.  The details.  The exact details.  Details so exact you have to live your own worst nightmare over and over and over and over just to get the details right.  Because to get them wrong--purposely wrong--is a sort of blasphemy.  Yet you also don't want to sound whiny, or maudlin, like you don't realize other people have lost their kids, too.  You have to write about the cold hard facts, and how do you describe emotions at all, especially as cold hard facts?

And you have to write it well, not like a diary or a journal.  You have to write it over and over, drafts innumerable, to get the tone of everything above, and everything I can't even think of, just right.  It is a high-wire act, a balancing act of art, and therapy, and confessional, and literature, and a sort of diary-journal in memoir form.

I'm a writer--hopefully a pretty good one--and I can't imagine ever being able to do this.  Ann Hood, a former (or current?) Rhode Island College professor [full disclosure: I attended RIC but did not have the good fortune to get Ms. Hood as a professor, though of course I did have some good ones] does the high-wire act and succeeds because her writing is that direct, that honest, that good.  This book will jab you with its simplicity and it's reality.  Not realism, which is a fakeness of literature that makes the unreal real.  This book is all real, all the time.  It is one of the heavier 186-page book you'll ever read, and read it you should.

It doesn't matter if you've never lost a child.  When you reach a certain age, as I guess I have, you've probably lost somebody, and no matter how old they were, I'll bet you thought they weren't old enough.  And you're right.  At least, I think you are, because that's how I've felt about my loved ones who've died.  In fact, I feel that way about everyone I know who've died, even those who were quite old.

More than the death of her child, that's really what Comfort is about: Death.  The death of anyone.  Anyone you've loved.  Anyone you thought died too young.  Weren't they all too young?

Of course, it's harder to explain when they are really that young.  How do you explain the death of a 5-year old girl?  Especially when it's your own daughter, how do you explain that?  Another thing this book tells you is that there is no explanation.  There's no Why.  How can there be?  How can we possibly understand why such a thing happens?  Hood makes it very clear right away, and reminds us throughout, that she doesn't know why it happened.  She doesn't have a belief about it, either.

It happened.  That's the source of the grief, and maybe of the comfort.

It happened.  And there is no why.

A remarkable work that deserves to be read.  When you're done you'll feel something, which is what good books are supposed to make you do.

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