Migrations to Solitude

MIGRATIONS TO SOLITUDE Sue Halpern (Pantheon, $20) Solitude is what we never have enough of until we have too much. A common enough condition, it’s an elusive subject for a book. In this collection of journalistic essays, Sue Halpern’s Migrations to Solitude leaves living alone pretty much alone and goes off on such tangents as privacy rights, prisons, and the varieties of social and psychological isolation. In the most gruesomely arresting piece, she examines the annihilation of privacy that occurs in high-tech medicine’s invasive efforts to defer death. Her account of the intensive-care unit at a New York hospital — one room, 10 devastated patients, a few ”desperately cynical” doctors, nurses, and interns performing humanitarian torture — is a secular version of hell. As for redemption, she finds it in the steadfast care of a mother for her son dying in an AIDS hospice; in a homeless shelter; in the silence of a Trappist monastery where she hears intimations of a mute God. Some of the pieces are fragmentary but all of them have a terse, tough-minded quality that makes them compelling. In spite of some brushes with self-revelation, Halpern’s book isn’t really about the ”confrontation of the self by the self, which is solitude’s true vocation”; it’s a troubled and unnerving book about a crowded planet — about solitude under siege. B+

Migrations to Solitude
  • Book