"A woman describes a series of encounters she has with various people in the ordinary course of her life: an ex she runs into by chance at a public forum, an Airbnb owner unsure how to interact with her guests, a stranger who seeks help comforting his elderly mother, a friend of her youth now hospitalized with terminal cancer. In each of these people the woman finds a common need: the urge to talk about themselves and to have an audience to their experiences. The narrator orchestrates this chorus of voices for the most part as a passive listener, until one of them makes an extraordinary request, drawing her into an intense and transformative experience of her own. In What Are You Going Through, Nunez brings wisdom, humor, and insight to a novel about human connection and the changing nature of relationships in our times. A surprising story about empathy and the unusual ways one person can help another through hardship, her book offers a moving and provocative portrait of the way we live now"--
The main part of the book though concentrates on a favor she agrees to do for a dying friend she has not had a relationship with for years. It is a sad situation but the book, words do not come off as particularly grim. It's just life, life and death, realities.
Contemplative, identifiable, a short book in pages but it contains much food for thought. How do we live our days, our lives, who do we meet, think about How do we become involved in things we'd rather not. How one thing leads to another. How these experiences enrich us is ways not immediately apparent. Messy, messy life, full of friendship, love, joy but sorrows too. All making us the people we are.
What are you going through is a fantastic testimony to friendships, especially those that have lasted for decades. The narrator of the story introduces us to her nameless friend at the onset of the book and follows through on the friend’s story of terminal cancer and readiness for death as the book progresses. However, she also includes her observations and interactions with other characters. Some may call her inclusion of these “others” digressions. I think that including her impressions of her ex-lover’s pessimistic academic presentation, the Airbnb host’s insecurities, the gym lady’s struggles, and others were powerful ways to convey the spectrum of relationships in life. Although very sad, the uninspiring, dissatisfying relationship that the narrator has with the elderly lady who idolizes Sean Hannity is poignant in reminding us that some acquaintances can be poisonous to our psyche. Both this lady and another who is in therapy with her friend dare to remind us that some people’s death in our lives does not make us overly sad.
Impending death and death itself is a significant theme of this book, and it is handled not as something to be feared but as part of the life cycle. Without wasting any words, Nunez discusses metaphors for cancer and expresses cynicism for those who preach the power of positive thinking when reality indicates that all the positive thinking in the world cannot change reality. Sigrid Nunez takes pride in not overexplaining and treating her readers as intelligent. The words and analyses in this book are absolutely indicative of her philosophy of writing and truly thought-provoking.
When I was only a third of the way through the book, I was ready to give it my top rating. The book is, as NPR said, “A penetrating, moving meditation on loss, comfort, memory, what it means to be a writer today, and various forms of love and friendship …. Nunez has a wry, withering wit.”
Yep, loss of memory and a loss of people, that fits me well at this point in my life. Through books, the news, and movies, I experience so many different stories and thoughts, and all I want to do is share them with my late wife, Vicky, just like I did for more than thirty years. Replacing love and comfort with grief and loneliness is sometimes crippling.
I found myself addicted to Nunez’s writing style and the way she eventually weaves the different threads together into something profound. Her writing seamlessly connects with the emotions and the intellect.
In the book a dying woman is telling about all the encounters in her everyday life, encounters where she detects a common theme reflected in her close friends and complete strangers. These people (maybe all people), have a common need, they want to talk about themselves and to find an audience willing to listen. We all need some connections for our life to have meaning.
A review of this book mentioned empathy and our deep desire for some emotional comfort in our lives, and that struck me as so true. Two other words come to my mind concerning this book, wisdom and a sly humor. The book has many fascinating discussions concerning death, companionship, and life. Nunez is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers on the scene today.
Sigrid Nunez presents a narrator with a calm demeanour and a dry wit. Certainly life hasn’t always been rosy for her. And her friends, whether they are lovers or not, aren’t the easiest of people to deal with. But the narrator abides. Or rather, upon her reflection she presents the calmness of the detached observer (who can say how she responds in the moment). It makes for compelling reading. And the insights provided, both direct and oblique, are gently accommodated. I like it, even when I’m not entirely warm to the scenario.