A TROUBLED GUEST: Life and Death Stories

Nancy Mairs, Author . Beacon $23 (224p) ISBN 978-0-8070-6248-7

In her latest book of essays (Waist-High in the World; Carnal Acts; etc.), Mairs, who has written extensively about being disabled by multiple sclerosis, examines death. "Death makes us who we are," she asserts, setting the thematic tone for the book's 10 essays in which life and death are inextricably linked. Equal parts memoir, rumination, religious and political treatise, Mairs's essays plumb the deeply personal. Contemplation of death has been an inevitable consideration for her, "crippled" (as she puts it) for more than 20 years by progressive MS and plagued by lifelong depression, which led her to attempt suicide years ago. Mairs writes of the recent cancer death of her mother and the sudden, accidental death of her father when she was only five, losses which left her feeling abandoned and orphaned. She explores the complex terrain of euthanasia, first as she describes her mother's decision to be removed from the ventilator keeping her unnaturally alive, then as she watches the harrowing spectacle of her foster son's brain oozing from every orifice in his skull after he is shot and doctors can do nothing to save his life. These meditations, as Mairs calls the essays, examine death's many facets, including the loss of beloved pets, her relationship with a prisoner on death row and how Americans distance themselves from grief. She offers no conclusions, nor are her insights particularly stimulating. But through these evocative and often affecting essays, Mairs charts a territory that defines the corporeal and the spiritual, delineating as much about how we live as how we die. (Oct. 15)

Correction: Due to an editing error, our review of Tony Hillerman's Seldom Disappointed (Forecasts, Sept. 24) erroneously stated that Hillerman's brother, Barry, died in WWII. In fact, he survived the war and lived for many decades. PW regrets the error.

Reviewed on: 10/15/2001
Release date: 10/01/2001
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 207 pages - 978-0-8070-6242-5
Paperback - 195 pages - 978-0-8070-6249-4
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