marginalia || What Remains, by Carole Radziwill

The truth is my husband is dying, and we are lonely together. There is the disease and the person, and though I am living with both, one has robbed me of the other. He is devoted to something else. It is in some ways similar, I imagine, to an affair, only in an affair I could pack my bags and storm out, slam the door shut, clearly wronged. There’d be some satisfaction in that. This is a secret he won’t talk to me about, and I am not allowed to resent it. When he looks at me he sees his disease. I am managing it, too closely connected to it for intimacy. I reflect it, and I suspect this angers him. After a point, the cancer, the thing we both hate, is the only thing that we share. (p.158)

I borrowed What Remains, a memoir by Carole Radziwill, from my friend Petra last weekend. I didn’t know what it was about—barely glancing at the blurb—I knew only that it looked like a good book to lug around: trade paperback, short of 300 pages. When I finally did look at the blurb, I was afraid it would be one of those vanity memoirs by some golden girl. Or worse, some memoir that capitalizes on grief and celebrity recall—Radziwill recounts, as the subtitle puts it, her love for her dying husband (a long struggle with cancer), her friendship with an illustrious couple (John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Carolyn Bessette), and the obscure workings of fate.

But. This book caught me off-guard. I’d opened it idly after lunch, and then found myself, dazed, closing it hours later. Radziwill has written a memoir that shakes you and—

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This post ends here, this post sharing my thoughts on the book. I’ve tried to plod forward, to try to tell whoever’s out there listening what I felt about Radziwill’s memoir. I tried just transcribing the scribbles I made on my journal, but they were just too disjointed, too personal.

Death and cancer—sometimes entwined, sometimes by themselves—have been too relevant in my life the past couple of months, and this book brought that to home. Framed it, and gave it a different context—but the similarities reverberated.

It’s a wonderful book, and it broke my heart. This is what I’d really wanted to say, and I can’t find it in me to elaborate. So, well, yes.

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6 comments

  1. I think I understand how you feel with this book. There’s no need to elaborate. Sometimes a book just hits us and we try to tell everyone how but we can’t because it’s just so close.

    No worries! You’ve shown yourself to be a sensitive writer and an excellent reader. You’re in my thoughts, be strong, okay?

    (Read this book when it came out and loved it, btw. Carole is a strong woman and I get what you mean about “brittle” strength.)

    1. Thanks, Piper, for your comment. Really appreciate it. I wondered if I should just not talk about the book, but a part of me really wanted to, even if I knew it would be so difficult. I guess I just wanted to tell people how hard it hit me? Even if I botched it? Hahaha. Still–thank you! Perhaps after some time, I’ll be able to actually post a decent entry about this book. :]

  2. Wow. This sounds intense for you. And like it arrived when you needed it.

    1. Yes, you’re right. I didn’t think about it that way, but this book was timely. And to think that I had picked this book up so carelessly.

  3. Hi — I read this book several years ago — and am currently rereading it as I found it in a box when I moved recently. I never write authors, however, I believe when I finish rereading the book, I will write to Ms. Radziwill.

    There is no way to describe this book. It is intimate, without being maudlin. It allows us to see the Radziwills, the Kennedys and their various famous friends as real people — not as the just some famous people we’ve heard of. The scene with John and Anthony and the teddy bear picnic had me sobbing. How sweet and sentimental and loving.

    The book is just written so well. It’s mesmerizing.

    Anyway, I Googled Carole and found your post and thought I’d add my 2 cents.

    1. It was the right book for the moment then, for me. I wanted to resists — a vanity memoir, I thought. But it was just so honest and affective.

      Thanks for dropping by, even though I was a mess of ineloquence up there. :]

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