History of a Suicide: My Sister’s Unfinished Life

“It is so nice to be happy. It always gives me a good feeling to see other people happy. . . . It is so easy to achieve.” —Kim's journal entry, May 3, 1988 

On the night of April 15, 1990, Jill Bialosky’s twenty-one-year-old sister Kim came home from a bar in downtown Cleveland. She argued with her boyfriend on the phone. Then she took her mother’s car keys, went into the garage, closed the garage door. She climbed into the car, turned on the ignition, and fell asleep. Her body was found the next morning by the neighborhood boy her mother hired to cut the grass. 

Those are the simple facts, but the act of suicide is anything but simple. For twenty years, Bialosky has lived with the grief, guilt, questions, and confusion unleashed by Kim's suicide. Now, in a remarkable work of literary nonfiction, she re-creates with unsparing honesty her sister's inner life, the events and emotions that led her to take her life on this particular night. In doing so, she opens a window on the nature of suicide itself, our own reactions and responses to it—especially the impact a suicide has on those who remain behind. 

Combining Kim’s diaries with family history and memoir, drawing on the works of doctors and psychologists as well as writers from Melville and Dickinson to Sylvia Plath and Wallace Stevens, Bialosky gives us a stunning exploration of human fragility and strength. She juxtaposes the story of Kim's death with the challenges of becoming a mother and her own exuberant experience of raising a son. This is a book that explores all aspects of our familial relationships—between mothers and sons, fathers and daughters—but particularly the tender and enduring bonds between sisters. 

History of a Suicide brings a crucial and all too rarely discussed subject out of the shadows, and in doing so gives readers the courage to face their own losses, no matter what those may be. This searing and compassionate work reminds us of the preciousness of life and of the ways in which those we love are inextricably bound to us.

Praise for History of a Suicide: My Sister’s Unfinished Life

“Valiant and eloquent…Bialosky’s thoughtful book elucidates the complexity of suicide.”

Washington Post Book World

“A searing elegy…this memoir reads like butter and cuts like a knife.”

People (4 star review)

“A tender, absorbing, and deeply moving memoir...[Bialosky] writes so gracefully and bravely that what you're left with in the end is an overwhelming sense of love.”

—Entertainment Weekly

“Extraordinarily useful...a source of solace and understanding…. [Bialosky’s] hand is always skillful, as attentive to the rhythms of storytelling as to conveying emotion.”

Time

“A profound and lyrical investigation…Bialosky writes sensitively and beautifully.”

New York Magazine

“Brave and beautifully crafted.”

—The Daily Beast

“Honest and insightful... She writes with an editor's rigour, but her quest is by nature a messy, obsessive poet's kind of lament that tos and fros between her present tense and her sister's imperfect past”

Observer

“Bialosky writes beautifully and treats her subject matter with grace and delicacy ... History of a Suicide is a fine tribute to a lost sister”

Independent on Sunday

“A skilled writer… History of a Suicide unflinchingly confronts the terrible aftermath for the survivors”

Independent

“This is a beautiful and shattering book… written with courage and in sorrow”

— Jewish Chronicle

“A beautiful, heart-breaking, deeply intimate book”

— Irish Independent on Sunday

“Moving... A rich and generous book. A powerful document of compassion and understanding”

— Irish Examiner

“Bialosky writes beautifully and treats her subject matter with grace and delicacy”

— Paperbacks review in the Independent (14/11/15)

“An extraordinarily valiant and resonant testimony to the healing powers of truth and empathy.”

Booklist

“A beautifully composed, deeply reflective work.”

Publishers Weekly

“In quietly piercing language, [Bialosky] delivers a sure sense of a 'beautiful girl' who took her own life at age 21 and of what it means to grieve such a death, burdened with an awful sense of responsibility that can’t easily be shared with others.”

Library Journal

“This is the kind of book that can teach us—all of us—about what it means to be a thinking, feeling human being. A book, in other words, that will teach you how to live.”

—Darin Strauss, author of Half a Life

“The plain language of Bialosky’s title reflects this book’s quiet, intimate and profoundly understated art: a clear medium penetrating into the wounded and wounding mystery of her subject.”

—Robert Pinsky, former United States Poet Laureate

“That rare book that is so articulate and stunningly close to the bone that one holds one’s breath while reading it. . . . Written with a poet’s eye and a novelist’s gift, History of a Suicide is remarkable for its author’s bravery, candor and ability to tolerate the intolerable.”

—A.M. Homes, author of This Book Will Save Your Life

“Jill Bialosky has written an extraordinary book, which brings her sister Kim to life and also serves as a practical road map to understanding why life can become unbearable for someone who seems extravagantly gifted. Readers will find solace and clarity in this wonderful book.”

—Susan Cheever, author of Home Before Dark

“Beautiful and incredibly brave. . . . Jill Bialosky has stared straight into the white hot heart of something very-nearly unspeakable and in doing so, has illuminated it—both for herself, and for ourselves. I can’t tell you how many times I caught my breath, how many times I cried.”

—Dani Shapiro, author of Devotion

“Jill Bialosky is such a fearless and clear-eyed and compassionate writer that although we know from the start how the story she tells will turn out, we cannot stop reading. By bringing her sister so vividly to life on these pages, she performs a great service. As much as anything else I've read, this book dispels the comforting and pernicious myth by which we keep the subject at a distance: that suicide happens only in other people’s families.”

—George Howe Colt, author of November of the Soul

“Like a match in the darkness, Jill Bialosky’s stirring memoir sheds light on a fathomless mystery. This intimate, brave book is a testament to the redeeming power of love, memory, and art.”

—Melanie Thernstrom, author of The Pain Chronicles

“Could things have been different? That is the inevitable, haunting question after a suicide. It can never be answered, only explored; and Jill Bialosky explores it with intelligence, integrity, a poet’s sensitivity, and a sister’s enduring love.”

—Joan Wickersham, author of The Suicide Index

“Better than anything on the shelf on the subject today, this powerful, honest, deeply personal testimony opens a conversation that is long overdue and restores the loving remembrance of those dead by their own hand to the place it deserves among the living. It honors a darling sister’s struggle and her memory at the same time it bears witness to the odyssey of griefBialosky and her family endured. This willingness to play in the deep end of the existential pool is so rare a gift: that Bialosky juxtaposes the chronicle of Kim’s death with the challenges of becoming a mother is the stuff of metaphor and narrative we more often find in poetry. It is brave, ambitious and entirely accomplished.”

—Thomas Lynch, National Book Award finalist and author of The Undertaking

“By turns a mystery story, a psychological profile, a memoir, a literary and social critique, Bialosky writes about despair with such elegance and perspicacity that the reader, paradoxically, is returned to hope, page after gleaming page.”

—Lauren Slater, author of Prozac Diary