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missing imagePoet and Slate cultural critic Meghan O'Rourke is the author of Halflife (2007), a critically acclaimed collection of poems. Her work has appeared in the Nation, the New Yorker, and the Paris Review. The idea for The Long Goodbye grew out of a column written shortly after the death of O'Rourke's mother from cancer.

The Topic: In this searing memoir, Meghan O'Rourke recounts her mother's two-and-a-half-year battle with colorectal cancer and her own efforts to overcome the violent grief she experiences when her mother finally succumbs on Christmas Day 2008. During Barbara O'Rourke's illness, Meghan struggles to come to terms with the fact that "the Person Who Loved Me Most in the World was about to be dead," but nothing prepares her for the ferocity of her feelings or for contemporary society's indifference to mourning. Combining extensive research with personal reflection, Meghan mines her loss for a collective experience of grief. "It's not a question of getting over it or healing. No; it's a question of learning to live with this transformation."
Riverhead. 320 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 9781594487989

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"O'Rourke has written a beautiful elegy. She celebrates her mother and movingly meditates on the knotty mystery of grief. At the end of the day, The Long Goodbye gives voice to the ineffable idea that our dead live beyond our rituals and ‘ceremonious designation.'" Judy Bolton-Fasman

Kansas City Star 4 of 5 Stars
"When [her mother finally] departs, O'Rourke pleads, ‘I just want somewhere to put my grief,' envisioning perhaps ‘a long, shallow wooden bowl.' The vessel she ultimately selects is a book, and we are all the richer for the enlightenment she offers there." Lanie Tankard

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The effect of her circuitous storytelling is that her mother remains present in the text even as we know she is dead: She's as present for the reader as she must be for the children and husband who lost her. ... [The Long Goodbye is] a secular ceremony, one that memorializes the mother's best aspects, her daughter's effort to be present throughout her decline and the terrible, common burden of being the person who continues to live." Carolyn Kellogg

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"The weightiness of O'Rourke's subject matter is leavened by her insight and wry humor. An elegant and erudite treatment of grief, O'Rourke reaches out to the bereaved and unbereaved alike." Megan Doll

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The reader comes to appreciate Barbara O'Rourke as a person--her gifts as an educator, the endearing way she would shout obscenities at other drivers--but the book also evokes the universalities of love and pain. ... In the hands of a less talented writer, this kind of sentiment could lead to mawkishness." Becky Krystal

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The Long Goodbye is a poet's book, for sure. It's a sustained howl of pain, an unmediated wallow, and it may be too ripe and intense for some. It sometimes was for me. ... There is not much humor, or lightness of any kind, in The Long Goodbye. But what little is here is memorable." Dwight Garner

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"This immediacy is reflected in the real-time portrayal of her experience, although a surfeit of detail sometimes threatens to muffle the story's power: the day-to-day panic, the bartering with some unknown god for a few more days of life, the well-intentioned fools who offer empty condolences. ... The Long Goodbye is an elegiac depiction of a drama as old as life, wherein the mother's first job is to raise a daughter strong enough to outlast her." Gail Caldwell

Critical Summary

O'Rourke writes with the intensity and clarity of the poet she is, creating vibrant descriptions and powerful symbolism in this anguished and beautifully rendered memoir. She breathes life into her mother in The Long Goodbye, a literary resurrection befitting the wise and gentle woman who graces these pages. The New York Times found the book humorless and, at times, too intense, while the Los Angeles Times lamented the confusing, nonchronological order of the book. Others, however, praised O'Rourke for her unsparing depiction of death, its arrangement and narrative arc shaped by the chaos of her pain. Intelligent and heartfelt, The Long Goodbye is by turns an intensely personal story and a philosophical exploration of the universality of mourning.