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Books About Death by People Who Committed Suicide

Writers off themselves all the time. They are a moody bunch, often fighting all sorts of internal battles with drugs, depression, booze, etc. Three of them have killed themselves since you began reading this blog post. Sometimes they even write about...
July 25, 2012, 6:30pm

The Battlefield Where The Moon Says I Love You by Frank Stanford

The Battlefield Where The Moon Says I Love You is one of the most manic and epic machines of image and sound I’ve ever read. I don’t know that you could ever finish and be done with it because it doesn’t stop thundering forward. It’s a flood of broken lines without end punctuation full of troops of dead and burning fields and knives and eunuchs and mirrors and caskets and it doesn’t seem to take a breath. It seems like being in a room with the person who wrote this book would be impossible, like the walls don’t want to. It starts like this and doesn’t slow: “tonight the gars on the trees are swords in the hands of knights / the stars are like twenty-seven dancing russians and the wind / is I am waving goodbye to the casket of my first mammy / well that black cadillac drove right up to your front door.” The book itself seems like it wants to rub itself out. Still, I keep it laid out on a shelf by the sofa where I watch TV so it can watch me, though sometimes I cover it up. Frank Stanford shot himself in the heart three times with a .22 in his bedroom while his wife stood in the next room.

Suicide by Édouard Levé

Suicide is particularly odd in that it is narrated in the second person, allowing the voice of the book to speak directly to you, the reader, as if you are a friend of the narrator, someone who committed suicide. As a result, the book has an eerie restrained quality, not so much absorbed with its own darkness as it is a calm exploration of the emotional texture of the difficulty of life and aftermath of the end of it, a catalog of understandings, though each of them almost museum-like, at once warm and cold. Everything seems almost OK, but it is off. “You are more present in my memory than you were in the life we shared. If you were still alive, you would perhaps have become a stranger to me. Dead, you are as alive as you are vivid.” I saw the translator of this book, Jan Steyn, read aloud from it to a group of undergrads, and watching them try to figure out how to emotionally and morally respond was a book in itself. Édouard Levé turned in the manuscript for Suicide ten days before he hung himself in his Paris apartment.

Replacement by Tor Ulven

Replacement isn’t really about anything. It kind of spins between weird reflections on the nature of mirrors or clocks and on the weird space between what one remembers doing and does not remember doing. It’s kind of quietly schizophrenic, as the voice seems to keep changing but there’s no signal and then the voice returns to how it had been. There’s a weird texture of analysis and resignation going on at the same time, like a brain trying to dismantle itself while also walling itself in. Like Levé’s book, it is largely written in the second person, though the tone here is somehow more sickly, fucked up how the air of where you’ve been seems to cling around your face. “The landscape is dark, or half-dark, or a quarter-dark, a mild summer darkness, which means that all contours, all surfaces retain a reflection of the day just past, an unvarying quantity, a dawn (or a dusk) that lasts all night.” More than the manic or over-analytical modes that might make a writer-person want to snuff it, this book lets you in on the strange shifts of tone that can fill in on the brain whether you notice them or not. Tor Ulven killed himself in Oslo, where he was born.

Chess Story by Stefan Zweig

Zweig was a German-born Jew, who eventually fled to the United States with his wife during the rise of Nazism, after a lifetime of having supported his country. Chess Story, the last work he completed before his death in 1942, centers around a group of chess enthusiasts who find themselves on a luxury ship together with a famous chess champion, who they eventually challenge as a group, and who find an ally in a man who memorized a book of famous chess matches during a period of political confinement. The story is oddly narrative and calm, while measured at the same time with the intense psychological baggage that Zweig himself no doubt felt in watching his country work against the world. I like that unlike the mania of the other books on this list, Zweig uses metaphor and texture to elaborate on his emotional damage, which somehow makes it seem that much more resigned and distant from all else. Stefan Zweig killed himself with his wife as the two took a barbiturate overdose together at their apartment in Rio de Janeiro.

In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan

Easily my favorite of all Brautigan’s work, In Watermelon Sugar takes places in a jacked up, destroyed human area called iDEATH, ruled over by a whiskey-drunk freak named inBOIL who has hoarded all the things people used to use into a junk heap called the Forgotten Works. Unlike the other books on this list, the narration here is funny in a broken way and edged with a kind of light that both knows it is there and doesn’t demand its own focus. It feels like being in a weird cartoon where all the wacky animals and brighter colors have been sucked out. “All of us who stay at iDEATH have shacks to visit whenever we feel like it. I spend more time at my shack than anybody else. I usually just sleep one night a week at iDEATH. I of course take most of my meals there. We who do not have regular names spend a lot of time by ourselves. It suits us.” Richard Brautigan was found on the floor of his living room at a window overlooking the ocean, with a suicide note that read, simply, “Messy, isn't it?”


See also:

Oblivion by David Foster Wallace

The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake by Breece D'J Pancake

Dark Spring by Unica Zürn

It Then by Danielle Collobert

The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosiński

The Dream Songs by John Berryman

The Awful Rowing Toward God by Anne Sexton


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