Review: Donald Antrim struggled with suicide for years. In a brilliant memoir, he redefines it

On the Shelf

One Friday in April: A Story of Suicide and Survival

By Donald Antrim
W.W. Norton: 144 pages, $25

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On the finish of “One Friday in April,” Donald Antrim frames a home scene: his spouse, Marija, performs the piano whereas he sits “on the lounge couch, writing to you.” It’s a small second, intimate but beneficiant in the best way it seeks to incorporate us. It additionally appears to characterize a degree of closure — or as close to as Antrim’s temporary and devastating memoir will get to at least one.

The writer is in the identical residence the place he lived in 2006 when, suicidal, he spent a Friday “afternoon and night pacing the roof of my condominium constructing in Brooklyn, climbing down the fire-escape ladder and hanging by my fingers from the railing, then climbing again up with sore palms and mendacity on the roof, in a ball.” Years later, each evening, he and Marija see that fireside escape “exterior the bed room window, its darkish define in opposition to the town sky, the metallic steps going up or down.”

We’d want to learn this as restoration or reconciliation, however Antrim has different concepts. “What is going to you bear in mind?” he implores within the e-book’s closing sentences. “What is going to you write in a letter to a buddy you possibly can belief?” It’s a full circle second that resists closing the circle, not least as a result of it ends with query marks. Decision is just not what Antrim has in thoughts.

One Friday in April” evokes, as vividly as any e-book since William Styron’s “Darkness Visible,” the continuing current tenseness — or current rigidity — of suicide, which Antrim describes as a situation in and of itself. “When telling the story of my sickness,” he observes, “I attempt not to talk about melancholy. … A melancholy is a concavity, a sloping downward and a return. Suicide, in my expertise, is just not that. I imagine that suicide is a pure historical past, a illness course of, not an act or a alternative, a call or a want.”

Antrim has excavated comparable territory all through his profession; his 2006 memoir “The Afterlife” — whose publication was a precipitating consider his breakdown — examines his fraught relationship along with his mom, whereas most of the tales in his assortment “The Emerald Light in the Air” (2014) painting characters who’re disrupted or unbalanced, doing their finest to stay alive.

With “One Friday in April,” nevertheless, he has launched into a necessary reimagining: suicide not as act or consequence however as sickness, persistent and debilitating, even when it doesn’t finish in demise. “My illness lasted years,” Antrim goes on. “It continued after that Friday on the roof, and went on for greater than a decade, via lengthy hospitalizations and greater than fifty rounds of electroconvulsive remedy, as soon as generally known as shock remedy. It lasted via a decade of restoration, relapse, and restoration.”

In revealing a lot in the beginning of the memoir, Antrim telegraphs his intentions, that are to discover the expertise of his sickness slightly than its arc. We all know he has survived, after all, however the phrases of this survival stay conditional, even so a few years after the actual fact. It’s a deft and sudden method, diffusing narrative rigidity in favor of a extra inchoate set of anxieties, which solely increase the deeper we learn. On the similar time, this allows “One Friday in April” to maneuver fluidly between recollection and reflection, between what occurred and the questions it provokes.

“Is it logical,” Antrim asks, “to think about that psychotic self-evaluations are cogent? The notion that we select demise over ache, basic to our present pondering on suicide, means that we select in any respect, as if some a part of us exists exterior the sickness, unaffected, taking within the scenario and making rational choices.”

What he’s saying is that, for the suicidal particular person, there isn’t any trigger and no impact, or not in the best way we generally give it some thought; there may be simply the behavior of being. Such a perspective is each holistic and a fatalistic. The person can’t be separated from both the scenario or the act. “Should we distinguish between mind and physique?” Antrim muses. “… Does my coronary heart pound in anxiousness, or am I anxious as a result of my coronary heart is pounding? Am I out of breath as a result of I’m scared, or am I feeling scared as a result of I’m in cardiac and pulmonary misery?”

All of this comes collectively in his account of electroconvulsive remedy, which Antrim believes preserved his life. He consented to the therapy on the urging of David Foster Wallace, who had undergone ECT within the Eighties; Wallace insisted that it was “a secure and sturdy therapy, that the medical doctors knew what they had been doing, and that I shouldn’t be afraid that I’d lose my reminiscence or competency.” The bitter irony is that Wallace himself would commit suicide in 2008.

Antrim’s writing right here is good in its indirection and compression. As a result of he receives common anesthesia, he’s actually absent from the method, which he narrates in second particular person to focus on that inside distance. “The anesthetic trickles down the tube,” he writes. “You may scent it. It has a candy scent. You depend backwards, 100, ninety-nine, ninety-eight, after which the anesthetic reaches your blood, and a second passes, and you’re feeling that you’re falling — after which blackness.”

It’s a captivating transfer during which the processes of therapeutic can’t be represented or recalled. Within the wake of this liminal expertise, Antrim reaches not a conclusion a lot as a mind-set exterior the binary. “So long as we see suicide as a rational act taken after rational deliberation,” he writes, “it can stay incomprehensible. … But when we settle for that the suicide is attempting to outlive, then we will start to explain an sickness.”

So what’s there ultimately, if not decision? A technique for engagement, for reframing suicide as understandable — paradoxically — by rendering all our straightforward explanations moot. “The aim of suicide is demise,” Antrim insists, “not what we might consider as rage, revenge, or atonement for sin. To the extent that the suicide acts, it’s however a falling away.” Suicide, in different phrases, is its personal nation, and we should method it by itself phrases.

Ulin is a former e-book editor and e-book critic of The Occasions.

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