Sunday, December 28, 2008

Joan Wickersham

For the Yale Alumni Magazine, Ben Yagoda interviewed Joan Wickersham about her acclaimed memoir, The Suicide Index: Putting My Father's Death in Order. Part of the Q & A:

Y: When did you first decide that you were going to write about your father's death?

W: I knew it pretty fast. At first I thought I would write a novel. But the result was flat, neat, "lyrical," dull. I kept putting it aside and trying to write something else. But this experience was like a tree blocking the road. When I tried to work on something else, a character in that book would commit suicide. It became an obsession, like a puzzle that I couldn't stop trying to figure out. I had to find a way that was true to the chaos of the experience, but didn't end up being a chaotic book.

Y: A device that seemed to help you deal with the problem was structuring the book according to an index, where "Suicide" is the only heading and all the chapters are subheadings -- for example, "Suicide, psychiatry as an indirect means of addressing."

W: Right. At one point, many of the individual pieces were right, but there didn't seem to be enough trajectory to pull readers through. An index is so formal that it gives you almost a numb feeling. And numbness was a big part of the whole experience.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Joan Wickersham's website.

--Marshal Zeringue