cover image Fifty Days of Solitude

Fifty Days of Solitude

Doris Grumbach. Beacon Press (MA), $15 (114pp) ISBN 978-0-8070-7060-4

This quiet, elegantly written memoir by critic, novelist and essayist Grumbach ( Coming into the End Zone ) sensitively depicts the mingled pleasure and privation of turning one's back on the world. In the winter of 1993, with her companion away on a book-buying trip, the author decided ``to attempt a trial return to the core of myself, staying absolutely alone'' in their house in Sargentville, Maine. She shut off the phone and didn't watch television; although she went into town to collect her mail and attend church, Grumbach avoided speaking with the postmistress and fellow parishioners. Music and books were her only companions as she observed the natural world outside and wrestled with her own work indoors. It was a tranquil yet often somber experience: ``My mail,'' she notes, ``contained an inordinate amount of bad news,'' particularly about friends whose deaths prompted thoughts of her own mortality. In the book's most moving passages, she recalls a young dancer's slow demise from AIDS and the suicide of a writing student, the latter a chilling account of Grumbach's inability to help a tortured man who felt utterly alone. The author does not pretend to offer big revelations here, merely the intimate story of one woman's immersion in ``the universal solitude in which we all have lived, try as we might to escape it.'' 20,000 first printing; author tour. (Sept.)