A stirring, inventive masterpiece of heartbreak.

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A memoir of the author’s struggle to find the words to mourn her son’s death.

On March 16, 2015, Aidt’s son, Carl, died after throwing himself out of a fifth-floor window; he had suffered a psychotic break after consuming psilocybin mushrooms. It takes a long time—nearly halfway through this slim, devastating book—for Danish poet and fiction writer Aidt (Rock, Paper, Scissors, 2015, etc.) to state those facts so plainly. But her sense of grief is present from the first page, and she deploys multiple rhetorical elements—poetry, literary criticism, journals, all-caps, exclamatory text—to reckon with her loss. She returns over and over to her memory of the phone call delivering the news, adding new details each time, as if bracing herself to express the fullness of the event. Between those moments, Aidt bemoans the impossibility of putting her feelings into words through run-on anger (“I hate writing don’t want to write anymore I’m writing burning hate my anger is useless a howling cry”), unusually structured poetic passages (“Panic like a geyser inside the body / shoots its poison-water / up / from underground / to / the reptilian brain”), and sober contemplation of other grief-struck books such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, Joan Didion’s Blue Nights, and Anne Carson’s Nox. The difficulty of articulating grief is itself a cliché of the grief memoir, but Aidt’s shattering of genre forms both underscores the feeling of speechlessness and gives it a palpable shape. (The book’s orthography bolsters that sense, playing with font sizes, line breaks, and italicization; translator Newman handles these rhetorical shifts with grace and clarity.) Carl’s death thrusted Aidt into a world where “nothing resonates or can be established, where nothing in the entire world is recognizable.” Yet this book is an alchemical feat, giving shape to the most profound sense of absence.

A stirring, inventive masterpiece of heartbreak.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-56689-560-6

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...


A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...


The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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