The Art of Mis­di­ag­no­sis: Sur­viv­ing My Mother’s Sui­cide

Gayle Bran­deis

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Nonfiction - MELISSA WUSKE

Bea­con Press (NOVEM­BER) Hard­cover $26.95 (240pp) 978-0-8070-4486-5 Ex­em­pli­fy­ing the best of the mem­oir genre, Bran­deis tells a story that is both in­ti­mately spe­cific and in­tensely re­lat­able.

In The Art of Mis­di­ag­no­sis, Gayle Bran­deis strives to make mean­ing from the mys­ter­ies of death, ill­ness, and fam­ily.

Bran­deis’s mother com­mit­ted sui­cide one week af­ter Bran­deis had a baby. Those deeply con­trast­ing ex­pe­ri­ences set the scene for the open­ing of this mem­oir: a daugh­ter go­ing through her mother’s things, try­ing to make sense of her death.

From the sin­gu­lar­ity of mo­ments like birth and death, and the fo­cused de­sire to un­der­stand, Bran­deis’s nar­ra­tive spi­rals out­ward as she cir­cles wider and wider to make sense of her mother’s life, her fam­ily, and the way both women ap­proach phys­i­cal and men­tal ill­ness.

From page one, the nar­ra­tive pulls no punches: “Af­ter my mom hangs her­self, I be­come Nancy Drew.” The pace mod­u­lates be­tween fast and con­tem­pla­tive, but is al­ways pulled for­ward de­ci­sively by Bran­deis’s com­pul­sive, con­ta­gious need to know her mother and her­self.

The Nancy Drew com­par­i­son as apt; the mem­oir has the in­trigue and sus­pense of a mys­tery novel, and Bran­deis, while shrewd and ma­ture, echoes the in­no­cence and earnest­ness of a child de­tec­tive. Bran­deis gen­er­ously shares deep self-re­flec­tion, openly and un­self­con­sciously, with­out wal­low­ing or seek­ing pity. Her story is chill­ing and poignant, and not one dash sen­ti­men­tal.

Ex­em­pli­fy­ing the best of the mem­oir genre, Bran­deis tells a story that is both in­ti­mately spe­cific, even pe­cu­liar at times, and yet is in­tensely re­lat­able. The story will con­nect best with adult daugh­ters who are strug­gling to make mean­ing of their re­la­tion­ships with the mothers, and in the process trace the threads of cause and ef­fect that in­flu­enced their own paths to and through adult­hood.

Com­posed of dated rem­i­nis­cences, jour­nal-like letters to her mother, ex­cerpts of the doc­u­men­tary her mother was work­ing on at the time of her death, and more, the nar­ra­tive is tex­tured but co­he­sive. Each piece is aptly cho­sen and crafted beau­ti­fully into the whole by Bran­deis’s skill as a writer and poet.

The Art of Mis­di­ag­no­sis is a mem­oir that plumbs the depths of life in or­der to find un­var­nished, deep grace.

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