‘The Violet Hour: Great Writers at the End’

P32dylanthomasPaul Lakeland at Commonweal:

Katie Roiphe’s new book takes up the question of how six writers especially well versed in death and dying dealt with their own impending deaths. As such, The Violet Hour is a study of intellectual and moral consistency under stress. To what degree did Susan Sontag stay faithful, in her struggle with cancer, to her commitment to illness as a metaphor? How did Freud’s speculations about the “death wish” play out in his own final passage? Was John Updike able to hold together the matter-of-factness about death displayed in his writing in the face of his own impending death—and maintain the burning zeal to keep writing to the very end? Where did Dylan Thomas’s neurotic obsession with imagined illness, and decades of destructive alcoholism, leave him in confronting his demise? What about the children’s author Maurice Sendak, in whose classic stories death was never far away and who on his deathbed remarked that, while he did not believe in any kind of beyond, “if nothing is where my brother and sister are, then that is where I want to be”? And Roiphe helps us get to know the great American novelist James Salter, the only one of her subjects she was able to interview. He emerges as a man aware of death but not fixated on it.

more here.