A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year
Recommended Summer Reading -- Louise Erdrich, New York Times
"Gisleson writes with wit, warmth, and a spiritual devotion to books...Her search for purpose and connection amid chaos and loss permeates even the most heart-wrenching moments of The Futilitarians--and it's what turns the book from a meditation on reading to a celebration of being." --Jason Heller, NPR
Anne Gisleson had lost her twin sisters, been forced to flee her home during Hurricane Katrina, and watched cancer take the life of her beloved father. Before she met her husband, Brad, he had suffered his own trauma, losing his partner and the mother of his son to cancer in her early thirties. "How do we keep moving forward," Anne asks, "amid all this loss and threat?" The answer: "We do it together."
While forging their happiness, Anne and Brad found that their friends had been suffering their own crises: loved ones gone, rocky marriages, jobs lost or gained. Together they formed what they called the Existential Crisis Reading Group, jokingly dubbed "the Futilitarians." From Epicurus to Tolstoy, from Cheever to Amis, they read and talked about the questions that dogged them most. In the year after her father's death, these living-room gatherings in post-Katrina New Orleans helped Anne blaze a trail out of her well-worn grief and finally share the untold story of her family.
Written with wisdom, soul, and a playful sense of humor, The Futilitarians is a guide to living curiously and fully.
Gisleson's memoir is a compassionate journey through personal grief, as well as a smart compendium of literature. After the suicides of her twin sisters (Rachel and Rebecca) and the destruction Hurricane Katrina wreaks in her hometown of New Orleans, Gisleson and her husband Brad bring friends together in what they called the Existential Crisis Reading Group, or ECRG. Gisleson, who's written for the Atlantic and the Oxford American, documents a year in which she and the ECRG explore the meaning of life as they read, drink, and share ideas. What ensues is a dynamic examination of human suffering and human joy. They discuss an all-star lineup of literature including the works of Kingsley Amis, Epicurus, Clarice Lispector, Shel Silverstein, and Leo Tolstoy, to name a few. Gisleson nicely evokes the Catholic teachings she learned from her parents; most moving, though, is her hard look at her twin sisters' lives: both were fraught with mental illness and addiction, traits shared by their father, who was a death-row lawyer in Louisiana. Her narrative is a wonderful look at friendship and grief, as well as an enlightening personal literary journey. Correction: This review originally incorrectly listed the book's title and author's name. Both have been corrected.