This memoir hinges on the suicide of the author’s brother, Dan. The book starts with a hot air balloon ride organized by Dan for himself and the author. They soar into the atmosphere and gaze down at the vast desert sands of New Mexico, the state that will eventually become the author’s home. Like all images of flight, it is full of hope and potential. But what goes up must come down, and sure enough the brothers do, with a metaphorical crash.
Great heights is a recurring theme in this superbly-written memoir. The author is in New York on 9/11 and witnesses the jumpers from the towers-also suicides-making their tragic choice. And it’s from a great height that Connors finally finds a little peace of mind, namely a lookout tower in the Gila Wilderness, where he watches for fires for months on end in perfect solitude.
Connors is a man out of synch with the world. After the suicide, he puts himself in all the wrong places. Disjunction and dissonance become his norm: a white man living in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. A socialist working at the Wall Street Journal. A farm boy living in New York City. And when he’s no longer a farm boy, a city flâneur exiled to the Gila.
The memoir is at times painful. The descriptions of the photographs taken at the suicide scene are almost unbearable. But what relieves the pain for the reader is Connors’ lack of sentimentality, his curious and questing mind, and his humor – the latter as dark as a starless sky.
His phone sex escapades are hilarious, as are his encounters with luminaries at the Wall Street Journal. The WSJ bigwigs are presented as refined monsters, capitalist ogres with no heart and no soul. Also enjoyable are his chance meetings with random “characters” that always end with a Beckettian “I never saw him again.” Deadpan barely does it justice.
The memoir is something of a mystery story. Throughout it, like all survivors of such an event, Connors cannot help but wonder why his brother did it. He searches for meaning in the act and eventually finds himself searching for details, however agonizing. He is already faced with a tragedy. What he finds-the Rosebud revelation about his brother-turns the story into something darker and more terrible still.
Strange to say about a memoir with such subject matter, but on the whole this is an enjoyable read. While it is only intermittently entertaining, it is always engaging. Connors’ voice is self-deprecating. He’s like the attendant lord in Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (“one that will do/To swell a progress, start a scene or two”) who has stumbled head first into a tragedy and by accident become the main protagonist. A lesser writer would have concocted some nobility, some grandeur, for himself. Connors tells it like it is.