I am currently reading True Story: The Life and Death of My Brother by the Canadian writer Helen Humphreys. Do not be put off by the rather obvious title in this English version produced by Serpent's Tail. The Harper Collins imprint, published in Canada, has a far more evocative title that reflects the tenderness of this memoir: Nocturne.
Nocturne because the brother who leaves too soon was a skilled pianist. Nocturne because his leaving is a darkness, a closing in, a silence that is thick like the night and full of sound. Nocturne because memory and loss come in short sharp bursts of music.
Humphreys makes me taste language. A phrase, an insight, a feeling pulled from the deeply lived experience of the writer demands equal presence in her reader. I pause, lay the book down, gaze out of a window and allow the shape and texture of words to find their resonance.
The shock of her brother's death stimulates a rich turning over of their shared and separate lives. Humphreys is writing to him "one last time." She lets him in on secrets, reveals how she is dealing with his death, and reflects on the similar solitudes of writer and musician. She sings her grief in the way she knows best:
"To have you gone - you, who went clear to the bottom of my world - has thrown everything off balance, has left me wandering like a ghost in my own life" (58).