Review: Once More We Saw Stars

Jayson Greene’s Once More We Saw Stars 

Why I read it: I read one of the excerpts published online in advance of the story and the description Greene wrote of being in hospital with Greta was the closest thing I’ve ever read to my experience of Emily’s death. So I read this book not for edification, but for connection.

How it was to read it: The naked directness of that excerpt continued throughout the book. Lately I’m attracted to writing that is direct, bare-boned, probably because right now in my life I feel like I only have time to read things that get to the point, so to speak. My love of literary pyrotechnics is in a waning phase. I absolutely love that Greene expresses his experience of grief without a lot of meandering through the critic’s mind that would justify his emotional and, spoiler, mystic experiences.

I also have sometimes struggled to find writing that expresses the totality of grief. There’s the grief, and then there’s one’s experience of oneself experiencing grief, and then there’s the whacked way that grief actually hits you when you are also intersecting with the world.

A few weeks after Emily died, I was walking down Yonge Street just south of Yonge. A woman passed me going north, holding a baby, about 6 months old. The baby was in a pink coat, red-cheeked with the wind. The mum was, on that flash of passing, upset, a little hunched over, in a longer raincoat with jeans and sneakers on. I remember these things vividly, because I slowed my walk down, deliberately slowed my breath. I knew that this woman was overwhelmed and that any moment she would turn around, run towards me, and give me her baby.

 It was a feeling deep inside me, from the place that knows when you fall and break something that this fall was a real fall with a real wound, the piece of you that knows the glass is going to shatter before it hits. This baby is going to be mine, said that place.

And at the same time, an equally knowing place in me, higher up, between my ears, knew that I was having essentially a break in reality, that no one just turns around with a baby on the street, that this baby was not mine and that I had no claim to it. This part of me was also sure that it was fine that my gut, the place dread grows in nightmares, fully believed that this baby was mine.

And a third part of me balanced the two, both assessing that since I was not, you know, grabbing the baby, and the rational mind was engaged, I was okay enough not to have to call a mental health professional right away. And that part of my mind also found it absolutely hilarious that I thought I would find a baby on Yonge Street, like plucking Thumbelina from an orchid, but in front of a Taco Bell.

I find Greene’s book rings so true from that place. And I’m awed that people can write like that; the word fearless comes to mind.

I admit that I read this book quickly, setting some training wheels on the emotional bicycle in that I read it at a time I knew I’d have way too much to think about shortly to let it dominate the week. That was for me. But it means I didn’t savour it. Maybe I’ll re-read it in March.

I gave it a 5 star rating on Goodreads.


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