On Labor Day I went to visit P. Such a familiar routine by then: park (away from the entrance side of the lot where once I’d been blocked in by a delivery van), clip on my name tag with the aggressively unflattering photo, stop by the front desk to sign in and greet the receptionists, walk down the hall with the tinkling music and tasteful corporate art to room one-forty-eight.

This time, something different. Her door was locked, and I just stood there for a while, uncertain. I’d already knocked and pitched my voice for a loud hello and her door was always unlocked, she can’t get up to let people in. You’d think I would have figured it out at that point, but no. An employee had to tell me that two days prior, sometime around 1 AM, P. had died.

Well. Hardly unexpected, and yet it felt like someone had picked up the world I knew and twisted it like a Rubik’s Cube. In one moment, I was going to walk into that room and pull up a wooden kitchen chair and spend an hour with my friend P., in the next I was never going to do that again.

The last time I saw her, she wasn’t doing well. She said she’d fallen the night before, and laid on the floor for some time before she could summon help. I couldn’t quite imagine it: without the strength to get out of bed, how could she have fallen? So many of the things she believed were growing fogged-over and indistinct. But she was clearly exhausted from something, her eyes kept closing. I held her hand — so fragile, like a sparrow — and told her to get some rest, I’d see her next time.

The obituary said she went peacefully. Maybe they always say that. I hope it’s true, though. I like knowing that it was one in the morning, it feels like a silent, still part of the night when the shape of things becomes malleable, when it’s possible for one breath to simply disconnect from the next.

She told me, more than once, how glad she was for her faith. She was so happy to know that she would be reunited with all her loved ones. She said she thought maybe God was keeping her alive for so long so she could pray for others, so she prayed for the people she saw outside on the bike path. I don’t know what else I can do, she said. All the things unsaid in that statement.

Her funeral was this past Sunday. At the end of the service there was a slideshow of images, and I got to see her as a younger woman, with dark hair and buttoned-up A-line dresses and those same twinkling eyes. In the very final photo she was in a car, scarf over her hair, a smile on her face and one hand raised to wave goodbye.

The Rubik’s Cube clicks back and forth: it was time for her to go, there is never quite enough time.

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How to Murder Your Life, by Cat Marnell

There are cheesy addiction memoirs and there are hopeful addiction memoirs and there are searingly-written and breathtakingly intimate addiction memoirs and then there’s this oddball entry into the genre: a gossip-laden crackle-snap-pop that reads like a blog entry pounded out at 3 AM. I’m sure it’s tempting to dismiss Marnell as an overly privileged party girl who didn’t even have the wherewithal to get sober before spilling the story of her drug-soaked fashion magazine writer lifestyle, but I enjoyed this book from start to finish. She’s witty, remarkably self-aware, and I like her unpretentious writing style (even, I admit, the egregious use of ALL OF THE CAPS COMBINED WITH ALL OF THE EXCLAMATION MARKS!!!!). There is maybe a morally-ambiguous trainwreck-ogling aspect to reading this because there’s really no redemption to be found, but I think she set out to create an entertaining, honest read and to that end, I say she was successful.

Descent, by Tim Johnston

I am a sucker for a Person Goes Missing thriller. This one’s made up of sparse yet evocative writing (I just opened a page at random: “He nosed the cigarette slowly to the wind, absorbed, until the embers flared and flew off like bright little hatchlings.”) and I felt like it kind of straddled an interesting line between a Cormac McCarthy character study and a grueling deep dive into grief and loss and the horror of the abducted. I think the end could have unfolded in all sorts of ways and he picked a hell of a good route.

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

Okay. I am leery of giving anything less than a rave review to this book, because it is so beloved and I fully understand and applaud its timeliness, its importance, and its power. The issues she tackles are so clearly important, the point of view is so underrepresented. That said, I had what I can only describe as a clinical experience while reading it: I appreciated that it existed, but I was not swept up in the writing. This was one of those YA novels where I missed the A, if that makes sense — the richness of story, the maturity of narrator. That said, I’m glad I read it, even if I did not love it.

Goodbye Vitamin, by Rachel Khong

I had an interesting reaction to this one, which is a diary-format story of a woman who comes home to help care for her father, who has Alzheimer’s. It wasn’t until I was nearly done with the book — specifically, I was on page 145— that I went from feeling mostly neutral about it to falling completely and totally in love. All of the quirkiness and jumping-around snippets of thoughts and observations suddenly became incredibly endearing and tragic and I didn’t want it to end. It snuck up on me in a really surprising kind of way that had nothing to do with plot twists or unexpected revelations, so I’d say, if you start this and you’re feeling sort of ho-hum … hang in there.

My Absolute Darling, by Gabriel Tallent

I feel like there are books where the writing reaches out and carries you into the story, and there are books where the writing gets in the way of the story. Sometimes, with the latter, it can be the thing that stops you from enjoying the story at all (or maybe the story just plains sucks), but other times, the writing is really good, maybe it’s even jaw-droppingly awesome, it’s just … a whole entity unto itself. The difference between the world disappearing around you, and you being very aware that you’re reading something that someone wrote. Does that make any kind of sense? Anyway, I felt super conscious of Tallent’s style choices throughout this book, which kept me from really being 100 percent into it, but maybe that’s actually a good thing, considering the subject matter. At its heart, this is a frankly horrific tale of a twisted parent-child relationship, with dreamlike, almost lyrical descriptions of the main character’s physical world and unhappy insights into her inner world. It’s fiercely beautiful and spectacularly ugly, at the same time. Definitely not for everyone, but unique and ultimately satisfying.

My Name Is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout

This was another sneaker-upper for me. It’s a short, seemingly simple story about a woman stuck in a hospital, recovering from an illness, and her conversations with her visiting mother. The stripped-down prose wasn’t what I thought I wanted, and then somewhere along the line I felt like I got into the Less Is More vibe and really appreciated the quiet beauty of her words. This is sad and thought-provoking and as soon as I finished it I felt like I should start back at the beginning with fresh perspective.

Hunger, a Memoir of (My) Body, by Roxane Gay

Oh my goodness, this book. I think I read it in one held-breath don’t-bother-me sitting. I saw a reviewer describe her reaction to how “each secret was stripped and empowered on the page,” and I can’t think of a better description for the impact these essays have. If you are a woman, if you have ever struggled with body image, if you are human, I think you should read this. There were so many times when I’d read a sentence or paragraph and feel as though she pulled it right from my own heart.

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