Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Monday, February 19, 2018

“I Am, I Am, I Am” by Maggie O’Farrell

Maggie O'Farrell is a really strong writer, which I first realized when I read and loved After You'd Gone, probably fifteen years ago. Since then I've also read Instructions for a Heatwave, and I have two other O'Farrells waiting in the wings, and now I'm not sure why I haven't gotten around to reading them yet. I think that MO'F and Geraldine Brooks must be my two favorite female authors . . . and I haven't read everything of GB's yet either. But maybe I need to reframe? Rather than berating myself for not completing their canons, I can feel a little frisson of delight at what I have to look forward to. 
I Am, etc, is a collection of short stories bound by a stronger-than-usual thread, as all the stories are tied together by a common theme (made clear in the book's subtitle: Seventeen Brushes With Death). The collection is made even more unique by the fact that each chapter relates a real-life (as well as near-death) experience of the author's. It's basically a morbid memoir. 
Before reading, I found it slightly belief-defying that any one person would have almost died seventeen times during what is more than likely just the first half of their lifetime. In fact, one of the chapters is about O'Farrell's daughter, and (though I must admit I already don't remember many of the remaining sixteen incidents in great detail) I remember thinking at least one of the others had a pretty tenuous claim on belonging in this book. But as I read I found it didn't matter whether the number of experiences defies belief. O'Farrell's writing made me feel, and made me care, and made me understand. 
One passage that particularly resonated with me: towards the end of the chapter about her daughter, O'Farrell lists all of the things that might make the typical parent panic, but are nothing compared to the issues her child has dealt with; issues that have caused O'Farrell to realize, "This stuff is small; life is large." How fortunate for her readers who can come by this wisdom (and, I hope, hang on to it) without the heartwrenching experiences that wrought it.