National Book Award Finalist: “Wickersham has journeyed into the dark underworld inside her father and herself and emerged with a powerful, gripping story.” —The Boston Globe
One winter morning in 1991, Joan Wickersham’s father shot himself in the head. The father she loved would never have killed himself, and yet he had. His death made a mystery of his entire life. Who was he? Why did he do it? And what was the impact of his death on the people who loved him? Using an index—the most formal and orderly of structures—Wickersham explores this chaotic and incomprehensible reality. Every bit of family history, every encounter with friends, doctors, and other survivors, exposes another facet of elusive truth. Dark, funny, sad, and gripping, at once a philosophical and a deeply personal exploration, The Suicide Index is, finally, a daughter’s anguished, loving elegy to her father.
In spare prose, Wickersham (The Paper Anniversary) has produced an artful and vivid memoir. Within the index of "suicide," she has found a form capacious enough for both intimate detail and general information; cold data and lyric moments; for mystery and for consolation. As she follows her father's suicide chronologically from his death through a passage of 15 years, she doubles back through family history (her mother's, her father's, her husband's), telling the story under such subheads as "anger about," "other people's stories about," "possible ways to talk to a child about," "romances of mother in years following." Her search takes in matters as mundane as the police investigation, as academic as the nature of biography and as disquieting as the issue of suicide. The elementary facts when, where, and how are straightforward, even simple: "My father got up early one morning, went into his study, and shot himself," but her pursuit of "why" leads Wickersham and her reader into the "unanswerable questions unresolvable paradoxes" that give her book classic qualities.