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“It is so nice to be happy. It always gives me a good feeling to see other people happy. . . . It is so easy to achieve.” —Kim’s journal entry, May 3, 1988
On the night of April 15, 1990, Jill Bialosky’s twenty-one-year-old sister Kim came home from a bar in downtown Cleveland. She argued with her boyfriend on the phone. Then she took her mother’s car keys, went into the garage, closed the garage door. She climbed into the car, turned on the ignition, and fell asleep. Her body was found the next morning by the neighborhood boy her mother hired to cut the grass.
Those are the simple facts, but the act of suicide is anything but simple. For twenty years, Bialosky has lived with the grief, guilt, questions, and confusion unleashed by Kim’s suicide. Now, in a remarkable work of literary nonfiction, she re-creates with unsparing honesty her sister’s inner life, the events and emotions that led her to take her life on this particular night. In doing so, she opens a window on the nature of suicide itself, our own reactions and responses to it—especially the impact a suicide has on those who remain behind.
Combining Kim’s diaries with family history and memoir, drawing on the works of doctors and psychologists as well as writers from Melville and Dickinson to Sylvia Plath and Wallace Stevens, Bialosky gives us a stunning exploration of human fragility and strength. She juxtaposes the story of Kim’s death with the challenges of becoming a mother and her own exuberant experience of raising a son. This is a book that explores all aspects of our familial relationships—between mothers and sons, fathers and daughters—but particularly the tender and enduring bonds between sisters.
History of a Suicide brings a crucial and all too rarely discussed subject out of the shadows, and in doing so gives readers the courage to face their own losses, no matter what those may be. This searing and compassionate work reminds us of the preciousness of life and of the ways in which those we love are inextricably bound to us.
The early death of Bialosky's sister Kim, who took her own life at age 21 in 1990, shocked and changed her family forever. The "sorrow, shame, and incredulity" surrounding her death in Shaker Heights, Ohio, overwhelmed Bialosky, and only in the past few years has the author been able to fathom her sister's inner turmoil at the time of the suicide. Ten years older than Kim and by a different father, Bialosky was at the time newly married, pregnant with her first child, living in New York and embarking on a writing career; Kim, whose father had left their mother when she was three, had dropped out of high school and taken up with a drug dealer boyfriend who at least once beat her up. In the months preceding the suicide, Kim had been attending college courses and working as a waitress, yet she was towed under by crippling feelings of hopelessness compounded by the breakup with the boyfriend. The absence of Kim's father during her upbringing prompted her deep-seated sense of unworthiness, Bialosky concludes, while her mother, suffering lifelong depression and dependent on various drugs, required more care than she could give her daughter. In a beautifully composed, deeply reflective work, Bialosky, an editor at Norton, draws from literary and psychological examples to honor her sister through a thoroughly examined life.