Almost 20 years ago, I met the novelist and memoirist Elizabeth McCracken at a wedding. I liked her instantly, and after the reception, we both ended up on a porch swing at the groom's house. We talked about -- what? -- I have no idea. But we fervently promised to stay in touch, and, of course, we didn't.
Last week, at the Myers Park Library, I spotted in a glass cabinet a copy of her 2008 memoir, "An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination." The librarian unlocked the case, and I started reading almost instantly. I didn't stop until the last page. I sorrowed with McCracken through the chapters -- her first son's stillborn birth in France, the heavy weeks afterward on the English coast with her husband Edward Carey. Then I was thrilled when she soon became pregnant again -- will it last? she worried -- back home in the States.
Days after the stillbirth, she writes:
But before this, we had one day -- this is very strange, it's the last day I remember really clearly -- when somehow everything was slightly better. Not all right at all, but one day we made jokes and actually laughed at them. A day of grace. We knew that something very, very terrible had happened, but it seemed to have happened to someone else, perhaps to someone very dear to people dear to us, a friend of a friend we'd always heard stories about. There was sadness in the house, but it didn't have us by the throat. Even as it happened, I wondered what it meant. Was it possible that already we were returning to ourselves?
Things got much worse after that.
Now I'm eager to read "The Giant's House," which I've heard so many rave over and which was nominated for the National Book Award, and "Niagara Falls All Over Again," winner of the L.L. Winship/PEN New England Award, and "Here's Your Hat What's Your Hurry" and the recent "Thunderstruck," collections of stories. McCracken currently holds the James A. Michener Chair in Fiction at the University of Texas, Austin.