The Suicide Index: Putting My Father’s Death in Order

Finalist, National Book Awards 2008 for Nonfiction

The Suicide Index book cover, by Joan Wickersham
ISBN 9780151014903
Joan Wickersham

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When you kill yourself, you kill every memory everyone has of you. You’re saying “I’m gone and you can’t even be sure who it is that’s gone, because you never knew me.”

Sixteen years ago, Joan Wickersham’s father shot himself in the head. The father she loved would never have killed himself, and yet he had. His death made a mystery of his entire life. Using an index—that most formal and orderly of structures—Wickersham explores this chaotic and incomprehensible reality. Every bit of family history—marriage, parents, business failures—and every encounter with friends, doctors, and other survivors exposes another facet of elusive truth. Dark, funny, sad, and gripping, at once a philosophical and deeply personal exploration, The Suicide Index is, finally, a daughter’s anguished, loving elegy to her father.

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In its compact and ingeniously structured narrative, Joan Wickersham's memoir merges genres to offer up an eloquent exploration of the effects of traumatic loss on survivors. Any reader who has mourned a parent's death will learn and take comfort from this book, which is more companion than guide; the peculiar sorrows and frightening revelations attendant on suicide have rarely been so deftly rendered. Wickersham is not afraid of the unknown—or at least not afraid to write about it in a book that is as illuminating about the meaning of life as the meanings of one particular, sudden, sad death, her beloved father's.