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The Two Kinds of Decay: A Memoir by Sarah…

The Two Kinds of Decay: A Memoir

by Sarah Manguso

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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
I don't get it. People I so admire love this book. I found it dull--even though its about a mysterious chronic illness which is a subject I'm all but obsessed with. Nonetheless. So chilly. The self-regard is somehow both unending and uncomplicated. The author came off the same way in her other memoir about her friend's death. Weirdly trite when she clearly believes she is blowing the roof off some serious shit. She convinces people, though.

Why did I read this one...well, there's the fuss made by readers I admire and plus I can read her books on a single flight. Because they aren't really books.

What about the brightness and spacetime rumination tacked onto the end. Trite but thank god brief. She jumps around quickly at least. I think that's what people like about her--she moves quickly and writes so directly that any lyric turn seems weighted. The blandness and ego must come off as candor, but what I'll take is the quick, darting movement in and out of short collages sections. With a clear central narrative question--the disease. ( )
  wordlikeabell | Dec 17, 2013 |
Poetic and spare, this memoir of Manguso's battle with a rare autoimmune disease reads quickly but penetrates far below the skin. ( )
  satyridae | Apr 5, 2013 |
  bibliovermis | Sep 10, 2011 |
Sarah Manguso is a young college student diagnosed (eventually) with a rare form of Guillain-Barré syndrome. For years she experiences paralysis in her limbs while undergoing drug treatments that swell her body and apheresis (transfusion of red cells, plasma, and platelets) several times a week. The disease eventually goes into long-term remission, but she's left with severe depression, suicidal thoughts, and a tendency to drink too much and bed too many men.

After the first couple of chapters, it's obvious that Ms. Manguso is a poet. She writes in short, stanza-like paragraphs. Her language isn't flowery, but is very well-chosen. The narrative hops around in time, but still manages to maintain a general sense of moving from pre-disease to post-disease. Her writing style is very informal, almost like you're an old friend she hasn't seen in years and she's recounting some vignettes of her life to you.

While I didn't love the book, it's due more to personal taste rather than a lack of skill by the author. It's a short volume, but nothing in the book "hooked" me. Then again, I get the feeling that Ms. Manguso didn't set out to "hook" anyone. She's telling her story as she sees it, and doesn't give a damn if it entertains you. I like that. ( )
  britbrarian | Aug 5, 2011 |
The author of this memoir is a junior at Harvard, who develops tingling and numbness in her feet and hands after a protracted head cold. She initially ignores these symptoms, but after a few days she develops weakness in her legs and difficulty walking, which prompts her to call her parents to bring her to a local hospital. There she is initially diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a disease in which the body's immune system attacks the protein that covers peripheral nerve cells, which leads to ascending paralysis that begins in the hands and feet and spreads toward the center of the body. Within 12 hours she is admitted to the Intensive Care Unit, as her condition has deteriorated to the point where she may need mechanical ventilation if the paralysis were to spread to her diaphragm. She undergoes apheresis, a procedure in which her blood is cleansed of the antibodies that are the cause of her symptoms, and her symptoms abate.

She starts to resume her normal activities, as most people with Guillain-Barré syndrome recover completely, with no further attacks. However, with a few days, her initial symptoms return, and she has to return back to the hospital for further treatment. With each treatment her symptoms improve, and she is assured by her neurologist that each attack is just a "bump in the road", as he downplays her and her parents' concerns. She eventually seeks care from a new neurologist, who diagnoses her with chronic idiopathic demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy, a rare variant of Guillain-Barré syndrome.

She continues to have frequent relapses, and experiences excellent and incompetent care from doctors and nurses, as she undergoes a seemingly endless battery of diagnostic tests and therapeutic procedures. One surgeon describes her as a difficult patient within her earshot, and a team of clinicians dismissively tells her that she has the "wrong symptom", as the numbness in her abdomen does not fit with the known course of the disease. She develops weight gain, acne, bone fractures, psychosis and depression from the high dose steroids she receives to keep her disease in check, yet she continues to live life as fully as possible.

The Two Kinds of Decay is a superb memoir told by a very intelligent and insightful young woman, who uses her considerable writing skills to describe her experiences with a chronic and debilitating disease. Her narrative consists of short paragraphs based on notes she took during her illness, to great effect. Her story is told in a matter of fact style, which adds to the effectiveness of the book. ( )
3 vote kidzdoc | Dec 6, 2009 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Sarah Manguso is a poet, and if the beautiful, terse sentences in The Two Kinds of Decay are any indication, she is a fine one. In this short, sharp memoir, Manguso describes the head cold she caught in February 1995. She was 21 years old, in college, second soprano in a choir scheduled to perform Gregorio Allegri’s “Miserere” on March 5, 1995. She managed to keep her cold in check until after the concert, where the choirmaster praised her work. She went home for spring break and began a nightmare of illness that would last for next nine years.
In brief, almost stanza-like paragraphs, she describes doctors' inattention or disregard of troublesome symptoms, unwanted intrusions by medical students, supportive as well as disagreeable nurses, businesslike orderlies, the welcome arrival of a more efficient plasmapheresis machine, and the chronic fear of death—the sort of details sufferers wish to share and readers read such accounts to learn. She deals with mundane matters such as wiping your bottom when you are nearly completely paralyzed (you don't, someone else does it for you and seldom to your satisfaction) and, especially, what goes on in the head of a young victim, including the social realities and status anxieties.
added by kidzdoc | editThe New York Review of Books, Diane Johnson (pay site) (Oct 23, 2008)
In her sharp, affecting new memoir, “The Two Kinds of Decay,” Manguso writes from the far side of a long period of remission. “For seven years I tried not to remember much because there was too much to remember,” she writes. From an original welter of experience, she has carefully culled details that remain vivid. Filtered through memory, events during her illness seem like “heavenly bodies” that “fly until they change into new forms, simpler forms, with ever fewer qualities and increasingly beautiful names.” Manguso is acutely interested in these processes of renaming and remembering, the way time changes what we say about the past. Her book is not only about illness but also about the ways we use language to describe it and cope with it.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312428448, Paperback)

At twenty-one, just as she was starting to comprehend the puzzles of adulthood, Sarah Manguso was faced with another: a wildly unpredictable autoimmune disease that appeared suddenly and tore through her twenties, paralyzing her for weeks at a time, programming her first to expect nothing from life and then, furiously, to expect everything. In this captivating story, Manguso recalls her struggle: arduous blood cleansings, collapsed veins, multiple chest catheters, depression, the deaths of friends and strangers, addiction, and, worst of all for a writer, the trite metaphors that accompany prolonged illness. A book of tremendous grace, The Two Kinds of Decay transcends the very notion of what an illness story can and should be.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:11 -0400)

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"At age twenty-one, just starting to comprehend the usual puzzles of adulthood, Sarah Manguso was faced with yet another: a wildly unpredictable disease that appeared without warning. It tore through her twenties, vanishing and then returning, often paralyzing her for weeks at a time. The experience left Manguso first to expect nothing from her life, and then, furiously, to expect everything." "In wry and unsentimental prose, Manguso recounts her nine-year struggle with this enigmatic affliction and its treatments, from emergency blood cleansings and collapsed veins to addiction and depression, to perhaps the unkindest cut of all for a writer - the trite metaphors that accompany prolonged illness. Ultimately, though, hers is not so much a chronicle of triumph or tragedy as it is simply a story about learning to pay attention. And in so doing, Manguso manages with tremendous grace and self-awareness to train our eyes anew on the very notion of illness and survival."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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