The Guardians: An Elegy


By Sarah Manguso

Parul Sehgal, Plain Dealer, February 2012

On July 23, 2008, a young man leaptto his death in front of a Metro-North train in New York City. He was identified later as Harris Wulfson, a beloved Brooklyn, N.Y., musician whohad suffered from intermittent psychotic episodes.

He is eulogized in a new book, “The Guardians,” by Sarah Manguso, author of “Two Kinds of Decay.” Theirs was a platonic friendship, a twinship tinged by Eros.

Manguso had just returned to New York after a year abroad when she heard that Harris had escaped from a psychiatric institution and committed suicide. Her book is as much a memoir of mourning, of piecing together the puzzle of Harris’ final hours, as it is a struggle to find a vessel to contain her pain, the search for the right kind of book to write.

“If I were a journalist I’d have spoken to everyone and written everything down right away,” she writes. But she’s afraid, she says, afraid to talk to his parents, his last lover or the man that drove the train. She retreats, skipping the memorial, refusing the family’s invitation to visit Harris’ apartment to choose something of his to keep.

“I wasn’t going to continue without Harris,” she writes. “Everyone else could mourn, obedient, but I would not participate.”

She surrenders to her grief. “I don’t try to hide it. I let it get all over everything.”

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Not In My Backyard: PW talks John D’Agata

by Parul Sehgal — Publishers Weekly, 12/21/2009

D’Agata uses Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, once a proposed site for storing the U.S.’s nuclear waste, to meditate on a variety of ecological, political, and personal topics, including the suicide of Levi, a Las Vegan teenager, in About a Mountain (Reviews, Dec. 21).

Why did Yucca resonate so powerfully with you?

A friend of mine, a technical writer for a subcontractor at Yucca, knew that I’d find something peculiar in what was going on there. I toured the mountain and immediately found the project interesting. An attempt to hide nuclear waste for 10,000 years? That’s kind of fascinating. At a Q&A afterward, someone in the audience asked a spokesman from Yucca, “How are you going to ensure the mountain is secure?” And the spokesman matter-of-factly responded, “We’re going to build a sign, and we’re going to make sure the sign remains physically intact and coherent for 10,000 years.” And I thought: that’s preposterous. Written language isn’t even 10,000 years old! I was hooked and spent the next few years researching the goofy government-sponsored studies that had been conducted in preparation for the project. But then out of the blue, my mom moved to Vegas, and my relationship to Yucca changed. I wouldn’t have written the same book if my mom weren’t going to be living in the path of high-level nuclear waste. I would have written an excessively ironic book about nuclear waste being sent to a mountain outside of Vegas, America’s preeminent “throw-away” culture. Hardy-har-har. Thankfully, I didn’t write that book. This project made me take Yucca and Vegas more seriously. And it made me try something as a writer that I hadn’t attempted before.

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