Book Review

microbursts by Elizabeth Reeder & Amanda Thomson

dying and grieving

cw: death/dying/degenerative illness

Recently, I ordered a book from the prototype website and when the order receipt came through I noticed I was the 10,000th customer (or something like that), and – because I live a life inspired by my wonderfully cheeky pooch – I immediately took to Twitter to share a screen grab and a query with the publisher to ask if my transaction number was impressive enough to win me a prize.

Expecting – at best – a laughed “no”, or – at worst – a “how dare you?” and a swift blocking, I was thrilled when instead of either, I was offered my pick from the prototype back catalogue! For free! (Just one book, not the whole thing, of course, we live in a society after all). Although pretty much everything available intrigued me, the book I decided would be my free gift was microbursts by Elizabeth Reeder and Amanda Thomson.

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Microbursts is a gorgeous book, both in terms of its content and as an object. It is part of prototype’s series of interdisciplinary texts, and features writing from Elizabeth Reeder and design and artworks by Amanda Thomson. What this results in is a book that explores grief, death and ageing in a deeply moving, deeply emotive, open, honest[-feeling (for what is truth?)], detailed manner, yet not without fleeting moments of joy.

Reeder, the writer and presumed narrator, is a Chicago-born academic and writer who lives and works predominantly in Scotland. Her writing here explores events that happened around a decade or so ago (I believe, as dates are never specified, but several of the sections were published as smaller pieces as long ago as 2007, so it seems likely they had already happened by then).

The memories that are being explored and expanded are those around the decline and death of her parents, whose various ailments and degenerative decline oscillate in their comparative severity as time passes.

Reeder takes us in and out of hospital, through emergency travel across countries and across the ocean, trying to make and maintain connections as death moves closer then further away.

All of this puts a strain on Reeder’s professional life and personal relationships, and at one point, her partner firmly asks to never be left alone with Reeder’s increasingly unwell mother, who is increasingly unwilling to acknowledge the severity of her and her husband’s physical declines.

It’s very beautifully put together, and very relatable and recognisable for anyone who has known family illness, although seeing a group of people dealing with this with openness, compassion and a willingness to recognise the humanity of other people isn’t necessarily something I can relate to, though I (alas) recognise that intellectual, emotional and psychological maturity don’t necessarily make these things any easier…

microbursts is very serious, very poignant, very moving, and Amanda Thomson’s textual and visual experimentation and images seek to – and succeed in – ground[ing] the very human narrative in a clear and realistic, though unique, presentation.

A beautiful text, heavy going emotionally, probably (I imagine) even more so if you have elder people in your life who you care about.

I recommended, highly.

Order microbursts directly from prototype via this link

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