Alison Beck Haas
, September 18, 2012
Kay Redfield Jamison has a special genius. She is a brilliant scientist and scholar as well as a masterful writer. Her beautiful prose makes highly technical information understandable and makes the disturbing human experince of mental illness vivid. Like her memoir An Unquiet Mind, Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide provides the reader the opportunity for great revelation. She writes of suicide, and the ilnesses that cause it, with candor and real empathy. Jamison brings clarity to and makes accessible the history, statistical data, medical studies that aim to make sense of suicide. Her clean and simple writing enable the reader to grasp the subtlties, successes, shortcomings,and failures of treatment of life-threatening mental illness. Her anecdotes of the lives and deaths of a wide array of suicide victims are delivered without histrionics but with vividness and compassion.
Any of us living with the spectre of suicide--the attempted or successful suicide of another in our lives, a profession that involves contact with the mentally ill, or the desire to take one's own life--stands to be changed by reading Night Falls Fast. This is not to say this book, any book, can change the illnesses that cause suicide. Nor can it reverse the horror victims and survivors experience. What Redfield does is give soul to this excruciatingly difficult subject. Her book gently eases us to peer directly at a thing we want badly to turn away from. The people whose lives and deaths are recounted in this beautiful book become real and human to the reader. As a result, the realities of the suicides and suicidal in our own lives can become clearer. And she deals unflinchingly with the social stigmas around death at one's own hand, as well as the things that befall those a suicide leaves behind. If nothing else, reading Night Falls Fast removes any notion that our own experiences and losses are singular. They are, in fact, disturbingly ubiquitous.
Redfield's great talent as a writer and scientist, together with her tremendous capacity for empathy, enables her to make the single most incomprehensible human condition somehow more human and nearly comprehensible.