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How to Write a Suicide Note: serial essays…

How to Write a Suicide Note: serial essays that saved a woman's life

by Sherry Quan Lee

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I just couldn't push myself to finish this book. It might have been the subject matter of the poetry or that I just don't like poetry. I might give it another try. ( )
  freya727 | Aug 7, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I've spent a substantial amount of time ruminating on Sherry Quan Lee's volume of intensely personal poetry, for lack of the right way to express my feelings about it. It's hard to make sense of a book that is so clearly an expression of genuineness -- it's almost impossible to judge it objectively. This ambivalence permeates much of the collection itself: it falls somewhere between a great achievement and something that just misses the mark.

Despite the attention-grabbing title, How to Write a Suicide Note is far from being strictly about suicide. The collection is divided into a number of sections that are best described as larger "themes," ideas that permeate the section. What Quan Lee does surprisingly well is turn the many reflections in each section into a narrative of sorts, baring her emotions about particular conflicts and then showing, often in more abstract ways, how she comes to grips with those feelings. It gives the collection a very nice sense of unity as a whole.

Where the work starts to feel a little less cogent is in the development of the individual sections. For the most part, we are allowed to see that Quan Lee is struggling with her mixed heritage, her time growing up, and her troubled past relationships. Her treatment of these topics through the poetry is involving but also a little too safe: she often conceals more than she reveals. For these reasons, much of her verse tends to get a little bit repetitive and clichéd. Where more detail could have allowed these moments to stand out from other, similar works, they instead bleed together with both contemporary poetic traditions as well as the other poems in the section. In short, there are few individual poems that stick out as being truly memorable.

Yet she is also unabashed at pointing out that the purpose of the collection is to simply get her feelings out there, and she is to be respected and admired for doing so. Regardless of whether the particular turn of phrase becomes memorable or not, the essence of the poems is intense, and the sparse, simplistic language that she uses is perfectly suited to the situation. Quan Lee, I gather, doesn't hope to change the world or open up larger avenues for multiracial peoples, but we get a strong sense of the struggle she personally must deal with. If nothing else, the collection comes off feeling (sometimes uncomfortably) like a published diary -- an individual venting and, in so doing, coping with her life.

That writing is a coping strategy is perhaps the collection's greatest strength. Littered throughout the sections, and particularly through the first section, we get wonderful imagery about the act of writing and its transformative qualities -- and it is here that Quan Lee shines. If the collection itself is an introspective look at personal demons, the treatment of the personal, individual act of writing lends an additional air of authenticity to the proceedings. It also gives the collection the sense of urgency that would otherwise be missing: we feel as if the poet needs to get the words out in order to stay alive and, for better or worse, what we are reading is the result of that intense need.

As I have already mentioned, however, with that sense of urgency comes a feeling that the collection is a bit too touch-and-go. It's hard for me to judge because I have very little experience with reading contemporary poetry, but I feel as if the collection, though already spare, could have used a little more pruning in order to truly have a stronger impact. And in the end, How to Write a Suicide Note feels like it's caught between what it is and what it wants to be, and that makes it mediocre at best. As an artifact, it is moving; as a work of literature, it is wanting.
  dczapka | Feb 22, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I was surprised to find that this book was poetry: from the title ("essays") I rather expected memoir. I found it very difficult to read, partly because my response to Sherry Quan Lee's poetry veered from "what is she talking about?" to "TMI!" (unlike one of the back-cover reviewers, I don't "love the sex"). I am sure it was very therapeutic for the author, but it was not so therapeutic for me. I read it in short installments and I probably finished the whole book, but I have to say that I am not entirely certain of that.

Nonetheless, it was thought-provoking. The central metaphor of suicide-to-live was at first disconcertingly violent but on reflection, well expressed the idea of dying to one's old, false life and false selves to pursue a reborn, new life. ( )
  muumi | Oct 19, 2008 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
To say that I fancy myself a poet is not exactly accurate; somewhere in a trunk at home there is a folder with Lord only knows how many pieces of poetry that I wrote in the 80’s and 90’s, when things for me were much bleaker and introspective. I even had some success writing a poem that was published a very long time ago.

Therefore, I looked forward to reading How To Write A Suicide Note by Sherry Quan Lee, a multicultural woman writing about her grappling with suicide, growing up different, and finding herself. To say that I “liked” the series of “poems” (many of which read more like prose than poetry to me – that seems, in retrospect, apt) is not quite the correct word. This was a great series, but in some ways, was so emotional and passionate, that I actually had difficulty reading them. But then again, I’m often dramatic when it comes to topics of this nature.

This was a very good book that I would recommend to people interested in mental health issues, multiculturalism, self-help, poetry or real-life essays, and if you are parent, read this and learn. ( )
  aclark1998 | Sep 19, 2008 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I really didn't like this "book". The back said in clear letters "POETRY: Multicultural". That detail was left out when I requested it. I hate poetry. The only essays were basically the five suicide notes themselves, and even those I would hardly call essays.

I'm also not sure what the point of the book was. I guess I think that the lady was just trying to write to convince herself not to commit suicide. One of those books in which the author tries to convince herself that she's a wonderful person. However, I found it hard to follow or mean anything. Perhaps that's just because I hate poetry. I don't know. ( )
1 vote ojchase | Sep 18, 2008 |
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How to Write a Suicide Note examines the life of a Chinese/Black woman who grew up passing for white, who grew up poor, who loves women but has always married white men. Writing has saved her life. It has allowed her to name the historical trauma--the racist, sexist, classist experiences that have kept her from being fully alive, that have screamed at her loudly and consistently that she was no good, and would never be any good-and that no one could love her. Writing has given her the creative power to name the experiences that dictated who she was, even before she was born, and write notes to them, suicide notes. Sherry Quan Lee believes writing saves lives; writing has saved her life. Acclaim for How to Write a Suicide Note 'How to Write a Suicide Note is a haunting portrait of the daughter of an African mother and a Chinese father. Sherry dares to be who she isn't supposed to be, feel what she isn't supposed to feel, and destroys racial and gender myths as she integrates her bi-racial identity into all that she is.… (more)

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Modern History Press

2 editions of this book were published by Modern History Press.

Editions: 1932690638, 161599985X

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