By David Canfield
May 13, 2019 at 09:00 AM EDT
Knopf

Once More We Saw Stars

B+
type
  • Book
Genre

Jayson Greene’s 2-year-old daughter, Greta, has just died. He’s processing this heartbreak with his wife, Stacy, in the hospital, while also contending with a strange sense of relief. Days earlier, Greta had been severely injured on a Manhattan sidewalk after a brick fell from an eight-story-high windowsill and crushed her skull. Her chances of survival were negligible; only now is her fate final. “The pieces of our lives are scattered everywhere, and we can never pick them up again,” Greene writes in his memoir. “There is some peace in immediately understanding that.”

A tough account of living with traumatic loss while the world around you moves forward, Once More We Saw Stars arrives four years after Greta’s death. It’s hard to believe, in such a short amount of time, that Greene could revisit this period with such clarity and grace. His emotionally transparent story resonates not just for the intense sadness at its core, but also its implicit message of perseverance — a complex portrait of a family struggling to go on, manifested in this melodic, sensitive tribute.

A freelance music journalist, Greene writes in the present-tense, a stylistic choice that pays off if only because he’s able to so comprehensively guide his readers through even the darkest of moments. He is descriptive, perceptive, documenting with a biographer’s care bursts of pain or numbness as they’re felt and internalized, triggered by everything from fluorescent hospital lights to buzzing flies trapped indoors to glimpses of young parents pushing strollers in simplistic bliss.

Greene turns away from no emotion in his work; the feeling, for the reader, can be overpoweringly personal. Though Stars is told from its author’s perspective, the memoir is at its best when expanding beyond his experience, exploring what others are going through as they wade through tragedy. Greene’s mother-in-law, Susan, who was right beside Greta at the time of the fatal accident, carries the heaviest burden of guilt. Greene offers a poignant, shattering window into her agony: how she won’t leave the Upper West Side apartment near where Greta was hurt; how she and her daughter lose touch, unable to heal each other’s grief; how, as the family plants a tree in Prospect Park in Greta’s honor, she finally, completely breaks down. “I sat next to Susan on a bench while she cried,” recounts Greene. “She kept going until she had nothing left, and then she just stared out at the pond, emptied.”

Once More We Saw Stars assumes a fairly straightforward arc: It begins in death, and finds new life by book’s end. That accessibility is key: Greene’s memoir tells a devastatingly realistic story of facing the aftermath of the unimaginable, of how difficult it is to take it day by day. There are detours to New Mexico, grief workshops, safe “screaming” spaces, daily yoga sessions. Old homes and memories are left behind for new ones; a new pregnancy shapes the book’s hopeful final act, as does newfound spirituality. But wherever this journey takes us, there is most centrally Jayson, and Stacy, and Susan — a family, broken, yes, but still alive and kicking and loving, left to find a way to live. B+

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Once More We Saw Stars

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