Losing Helen

Carol Becker. Red Hen (CDC, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (120p) ISBN 978-1-59709-990-5
In this quiet, lovely essay, Becker takes readers through the years and months leading up to her mother’s death and the mourning period that followed, delving into the grief of losing a much-loved parent. Becker, a professor and dean at Columbia University, writes precisely and elegantly, and her background in literature and philosophy quickly becomes evident as she laces her prose with allusions to Roland Barthes, Simone Weil, and Samuel Beckett, among others. Spirituality and religion play a large role in both Becker’s life and her tribute; she wrestles with the Judaism of her father and the lapsed Catholicism of her mother, invokes mysticism and Buddhism, emphasizes the power of dreams, and tells myths about Hindu goddesses. The essay is organized not chronologically but by elements: fire, earth, water, and air, each of which corresponds metaphorically to a different part of the end of her mother’s life. Becker’s sadness is pronounced and pervasive, but she breaks through the heaviness with flashes of humor, such as when she describes the Neptune Society (located in a strip mall off the Florida interstate, marked by a giant cutout of the mostly naked sea god), a Florida crematorium that her mother had arranged to handle her cremation. The subject of this slim memoir may be intensely private and narrow, but Becker’s writing is so beautiful—and the process of grieving so universal—that it deserves a wide audience. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 05/02/2016
Release date: 09/01/2016
Hardcover - 978-1-59709-509-9
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