cover image The Two Kinds of Decay

The Two Kinds of Decay

Sarah Manguso, . . Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $22 (184pp) ISBN 978-0-374-28012-3

In 1995, when Rome Prize–winning poet and fiction writer Manguso (Siste Viator ) was a junior at Harvard, she suffered the first attack of a rare autoimmune disease called CIDP, which would turn her body against itself. CIDP attacks the myelin coating of the peripheral nerves. The result is increasing numbness, followed by paralysis spreading from the extremities inward, until the sufferer can no longer control his or her breathing, and dies. In short, lyrical chapters—the book free-associates between memories, while sticking to a rough chronological order—Manguso recounts the harrowing indignities of her treatments, frequent relapses, descents into steroid-induced clinical depression, crucial college sexual experiences had and missed, and trips back and forth between schools, hospitals and her parents’ Massachusetts home. What makes this lightning-quick book extraordinary is not just Manguso’s deadpan delivery of often unthinkable details, nor her poet’s struggle with the damaging metaphors of disease, but the compassion she acquires as she comes to understand her pain in relation to the pain of others: “suffering, however much and whatever type, shrinks or swells to fit the shape and size of a life.” (June)