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The Story behind the book

Exploring the dark mystery of suicide

David Wilson for the boston globe

Joan Wickersham’s book “The Suicide Index: Putting My Father’s Death In Order” was published in 2008. Not much has changed in the intervening decade. “It’s amazing to me that that came out 10 years ago,” Wickersham said. “I keep reading stories about suicide — and there have been a couple of very high-profile suicides in the past year — and it seems like each time the reaction is a kind of bafflement and this attempt to figure out why.”

While writing about her own father’s suicide, the Cambridge writer said, she learned the limits of those attempts. “We never figure out why, and yet we can never stop asking why. I think it’s a perpetually new and mysterious subject.” Still, she added, “what precipitates suicide is very complicated, and the aftermath is very complicated. I’m glad that I delved into it in the way that I did. I was trying to write something that reflected the experience in all of its mystery and all of its complexity.”


In a Globe column this year, Wickersham mentioned Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, celebrities whose suicides shocked the public. “What I sometimes find painful is the news coverage, where people attempt to find some kind of cause that will make it make sense,” she said. “And I just feel like it doesn’t work that way. In some ways that person was so isolated at the end of their life, and then they’re isolated again after they die, because there’s this kind of cheap analysis.”

“The Suicide Index” affected her other writing, said Wickersham, who published a story collection, “The News From Spain,” in 2012. “I think writing about something true and real made me get more real in my fiction,” she said. “I actually don’t think about genre when I’m writing. Fiction really needs to be as true as memoir, and memoir needs to be as good a story as fiction.”


Wickersham will read and speak 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the South End Library,
685 Tremont St.

Kate Tuttle, president of the National Book Critics Circle, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.