Read Local: McSweeney's Amy Fusselman Hits Hard

Categories: Read Local

the pharmacist's mate.jpg

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I want to talk to my dad, but my dad is dead now. I know we can't have a regular conversation so I am trying to stay open to alternatives. I am trying to figure out other ways we can communicate.

In The Pharmacist's Mate and 8, Amy Fusselman takes on the dichotomy of life and death, parenthood and childhood. She does so in earnest language, presented in a slim, double-sided volume, and yet despite these familiar idioms and tropes, Fusselman had completely destabilized me just five pages in. I hardly knew what happened, only that I had been summarily reduced by a writer of disarming talent -- one I had never even heard of, but she knew me, alright, and I felt, rather creepily, desperate to know her.

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Sure, loss is universal, but writing about it is not. In Greek mythology, there is no confusion: Gods simply wielded powers unavailable to mortals. Such a bifurcation exists among writers; only an elite few can really get at suffering, because as commonplace and natural as death is, absolutely nothing about it is readily decipherable. Like Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking, Fusselman tries to understand this brand of mortal torment, when the people who defined our world are suddenly not of it, but she doesn't turn to academic papers or allot hundreds of pages to it.

She acts like an archaeologist on a dig, unearthing some new fragment she carefully dusts off and plainly identifies on the checklist before resuming her work.


Before my dad died I saw the world as a place. By "place" I mean space. Fixed. Space did not move, but people moved in space. People and space could touch each other, but not very deeply.

After he died, I saw that people and space are permeable to each other in a way that people and people are not. I saw that space is like water. People can go inside it.


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Amy Fusselman

Fusselman also weaves in contemporary issues inconspicuously, the kind that usually pulls even the most fervid reader out of the moment. There's quite a lot about in vitro fertilization, replete with details about follicle lengths, and a porn called Valentino's Asian Invasion.The author is elated by a random act of kindness which results in one free ticket to an AC/DC concert at the Garden. She takes a motorcycle safety class. Her son King, hipster name and all, is sleep-trained. Nothing feels out of place, so great is her gift.

This work by Fusselman, however, could not be consumed in the time I had allotted -- my own unscientific calculation based on arbitrary details, like page count. Though it's presented as experimental novel, underneath it is very much a memoir, its with trauma heaped on not by spoonfuls, but full-on cups, and the bowl quickly overflows. Breaks were necessary. I read part of the book and then avoided it for weeks, even moving it back on my review schedule, but I had no intention of quitting it. It was never an option, because time away from the pages was just spent contemplating them. The Pharmacist's Mate and 8 followed me around for weeks and somehow, as frightfully precious as it sounds, changed me, just a little bit, the way I always hope a book will.

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