A Spare and Unsparing Look at Affliction and Recovery that Heralds a Stunning New Voice
The events that began in 1995 might keep happening to me as long as things can happen to me. Think of deep space, through which heavenly bodies fly forever. They fly until they change into new forms, simpler forms, with ever fewer qualities and increasingly beautiful names.
There are names for things in spacetime that are nothing, for things that are less than nothing. White dwarfs, red giants, black holes, singularities.
But even then, in their less-than-nothing state, they keep happening.
At twenty-one, just starting to comprehend the puzzles of adulthood, Sarah Manguso was faced with another: a wildly unpredictable disease that appeared suddenly and tore through her twenties, vanishing and then returning, paralyzing her for weeks at a time, programming her first to expect nothing from life and then, furiously, to expect everything. In this captivating story, Manguso recalls her nine-year struggle: arduous blood cleansings, collapsed veins, multiple chest catheters, the deaths of friends and strangers, addiction, depression, and, worst of all for a writer, the trite metaphors that accompany prolonged illness.
A book of tremendous grace and self-awareness, The Two Kinds of Decay transcends the very notion of what an illness story can and should be.
In 1995, when Rome Prize winning poet and fiction writer Manguso (Siste Viator) was a junior at Harvard, she suffered the first attack of a rare autoimmune disease called CIDP, which would turn her body against itself. CIDP attacks the myelin coating of the peripheral nerves. The result is increasing numbness, followed by paralysis spreading from the extremities inward, until the sufferer can no longer control his or her breathing, and dies. In short, lyrical chapters the book free-associates between memories, while sticking to a rough chronological order Manguso recounts the harrowing indignities of her treatments, frequent relapses, descents into steroid-induced clinical depression, crucial college sexual experiences had and missed, and trips back and forth between schools, hospitals and her parents Massachusetts home. What makes this lightning-quick book extraordinary is not just Manguso s deadpan delivery of often unthinkable details, nor her poet s struggle with the damaging metaphors of disease, but the compassion she acquires as she comes to understand her pain in relation to the pain of others: suffering, however much and whatever type, shrinks or swells to fit the shape and size of a life.