There’s a certain barometer of a writer’s achievement that urban readers know well: did this book cause me to miss my train stop? The staff of The Paris Review can attest to my tardiness on the days I was reading Sarah Manguso’s The Guardians, a measured and intimate study in grief following the suicide of a close friend of the author. Manguso’s three works of nonfiction – Two Kinds of Decay, The Guardians, and Ongoingness: The End of A Diary – orbit deeply personal subjects, but her finely tuned ferocity, honesty and wit cast questions of memory, mourning, and the body in a universal light. ‘I want to know about my particular grief,’ she writes in The Guardians, ‘which is unknowable, just like everyone else’s.’
Blaise Pascal wrote, ‘Le silence éternel de ces espaces infinis m’effraie,’ and this fear of the ‘eternal silence of infinite spaces’ has become a refrain amongst writers terrified of the blank page. But Manguso leverages white space with confidence – reviewers of Ongoingness were quick to note that the slim volume contained more white space than text. The potency of Ongoingness, which chronicles Manguso’s decision to ‘quit’ a diary that she had kept for over twenty years and which contained nearly a million words, lies precisely in its economy. The book becomes the antidote both to the diary, and to the nervous record-keeping that the diary represented. In chronicling and questioning her long-held fear of losing time by not recording it, Manguso explores the futility and audacity of our impulse to guard our experiences.
In Ongoingness, Manguso shifts her focus from grief to the search for a liberation from our expectations of memory. Her decision to end her diary is transformed into a radical shift in viewing time: ‘I tried to record each moment,’ Manguso writes, ‘but time isn’t made of moments; it contains moments. There is more to it than moments.’
She was kind enough to answer questions via email, beginning in February of this year.