"A beautiful book . . . The intensity of these passages--the depth of research, the acute sensitivity for declarative moments--is deeply beguiling."--The New York Times Book Review "Profound, poetic and--yes--comforting."--People "Unconventional, engaging . . . The Violet Hour] is at once scholarly, literary, juicy--and unabashedly personal."--Los Angeles Times "Enveloping . . . I read it in bed, at the kitchen table, while walking down the street. . . . 'What normal person wants to blunder into this hushed and sacred space?' she asks. But the answer is all of us, and Ms. Roiphe does it with grace."--Jennifer Senior, The New York Times "A beautiful and provocative meditation on mortality."--Minneapolis Star Tribune "A tender yet penetrating look at the final days . . . Roiphe has always seemed to me a writer to envy. No matter what the occasion, she can be counted on to marry ferocity and erudition in ways that nearly always make her interesting."--The Wall Street Journal "Here is a critic in supreme control of her gifts, whose gift to us is the observant vigor that refuses to flinch before the Reaper. . . . She knows that true criticism does not bother with the mollification of delicate sensibilities, only with the intellect as it roils and rollicks through language."--William Giraldi, The New Republic
This item is Non-Returnable.
- ISBN-13: 9780385343596
- ISBN-10: 0385343590
- Publisher: Dial Press
- Publish Date: March 2016
- Page Count: 320
- Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.8 x 1.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 0.95 pounds
How literary greats cope with life's end
Katie Roiphe’s latest offering details the deaths of five major writers: Susan Sontag, Sigmund Freud, John Updike, Dylan Thomas and Maurice Sendak. Roiphe took the book’s title, The Violet Hour, from T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” because “the phrase evokes the mood of the elusive period I am describing: melancholy, expectant, laden. It captures the beauty and intensity I was finding in these scenes, the rich excitement of dusk.”
Each section of this elegiac book begins with the image of an empty room. “I very conspicuously do not belong in these rooms,” Roiphe writes, yet she recreates them in piercing detail: the hospital room in Sloan-Kettering where Sontag lay dying of cancer; the empty office where Sendak, in happier moments, drew pictures and whistled operas; Updike’s spare and efficient desk. These writers have something in common with all of humanity—they died. And in their crackling, vivid work, Roiphe finds keys that enable her to approach the mystery of death, although not to unlock it.
The chapters are organized around a moment-by-moment narrative of each writer’s final days. We find out, for instance, that Sontag was grateful for a last haircut and that Sendak ate homemade apple crisp. And that Updike’s first wife, Mary, grabbed his feet through the sheets and held them when she saw him the final time. So while a medical story is being laid out, there is also what Barthes calls the punctum, the evocative detail that elevates the reportage to something more like poetry. As these moments accumulate toward their final, inevitable endpoint, Roiphe takes many tangents to explore the writer’s attitude toward death as communicated through his or her work, which, for all these writers, was the central and most transcendent aspect of their lives.
“It’s all on the page,” Updike said. That may be true, and yet by combining the writer’s final moments of life with what they left on the page, Roiphe ultimately offers us something beyond the work:
a glimpse of death that is startling and new, intimate and uncomfortable, and deeply, deeply human.