A delicate and darkly witty reflection on loss, marriage, writing, and life in New York from an acclaimed biographer and memoirist.
Dorothy Gallagher’s husband, Ben Sonnenberg, died in 2010. He had suffered from multiple sclerosis for many years and was almost completely paralyzed, but his wonderful, playful mind remained quite undimmed. In the ten sections of Stories I Forgot to Tell You, Gallagher moves freely and intuitively between the present and the past to evoke the life they made together and her life after his death, alone and yet at the same time never without thoughts of him, in a present that is haunted but also comforted by the recollection of their common past. She talks—the whole book is written conversationally, confidingly, unpretentiously—about small things, such as moving into a new apartment and setting it up, growing tomatoes on a new deck, and as she does she recalls her missing husband’s elegant clothes and British affectations, what she knew about him and didn’t know, the devastating toll of his disease and the ways they found to deal with it. She talks about their two dogs and their cat, Bones, and the role that a photograph she never took had in bringing her together with her husband. Her mother, eventually succumbing to dementia, is also here, along with friends, an old typewriter, episodes from a writing life, and her husband’s last days. The stories Gallagher has to tell, as quirky as they are profound, could not be more ordinary, and yet her glancing, wry approach to memory and life gives them an extraordinary resonance that makes the reader feel both the logic and the mystery of a couple’s common existence. Her prose is perfectly pitched and her eye for detail unerring. This slim book about irremediable loss and unending love distills the essence of a lifetime.
About the Author
Dorothy Gallagher’s works include two volumes of memoir—How I Came into My Inheritance and Strangers in the House—as well as a biography of the Italian American anarchist Carlo Tresca and, most recently, Lillian Hellman: An Imperious Life. She lives in New York.
“A touching tribute to a beloved husband and a shared literary life.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Dorothy Gallagher tells us beautifully the things worth knowing. This book breaks my heart.” —Susan Minot
“The ‘you’ Dorothy Gallagher addresses in her exquisitely made new book is her late husband; the stories she tells him—moments recalled from their time together, lapidary dispatches from her years since his death—provide us the rarest of opportunities: hearing the very breath of others. This is not a chronicle of grief—it’s a distillate of life itself.” —Daniel Okrent
“With the deliciously crisp lack of sentimentality that has characterized both her style and her stance from the start, Dorothy Gallagher turns to a subject that would be perilous for most writers but which here gives even greater scope for her striking gifts: bereavement. These diamond-hard essays, each devoted to ‘things’—not lofty things, just things: clothes, pigeons, typewriters, friendships found and lost, sofas, the medical apparatus that inevitably became part of her and her late husband’s life—evoke the writer’s grief, and hence her marriage, with remarkable power.” —Daniel Mendelsohn
“Gallagher knows how to do more with less, her phrases laced with humor and just the merest hint of sentiment. . . . In Stories, it is the past that cuts in on the present, waltzing the narrative away into scenes long gone, rooms long left, conversations begun and ended many years ago. . . . Stories is less about grief than it is an enactment of grief, particularly of the habit formed in death’s aftermath of speaking to someone who is not there.” —Mairead Small Stead, LA Review of Books
“Stories I Forgot to Tell You . . . is not only a charming journey through grief, but an indispensable primer on how to work your way through it. . . . As Gallagher wanders through all sorts of memories while trying to recover from his sudden death, she paints a wonderfully vivid picture of her life with him then, and now, alone. Its very randomness is like a long conversation that has the ring of truth. If you have lost a loved one, as I did two years ago, this book will bring comfort and perspective, and a hopeful kind of peace.” —Roberta Silman, The Arts Fuse