In a compelling and breathtaking memoir about death and the end of life, Eve Joseph explores the process of dying and the pain of those who remain behind in her stirring book, In the Slender Margin: The Intimate Strangeness of Death and Dying. Eve Joseph’s powerful meditation on death and dying is informed by her twenty years of experience working as a palliative care counselor in a hospice. In the Slender Margin discusses the process of dying as well as its lingering effect on the living, including the family members, friends, and other loved ones who are left behind.
As much as it discusses many deaths of patients in the care facility, Joseph’s book could be seen as a memoir or a personal history. Joseph examines her beliefs on death and dying and how they have changed over the course of her life, showing how they inform her worldview. Whereas some books on this topic could have taken an objective, hands-off approach, relying on references to others’ ideologies, theories, and choice quotes, Joseph fully admits how her definition of death and approach to the dying process and afterlife have changed over time as she herself has aged and as she was immersed in this experience as a health care provider.
Joseph ties the root of her attitudes towards the subject with the death of her brother, Ian, a college student, in a car accident when she was just a young girl. Ian’s death and Joseph’s relation to it shifts throughout her life, and as such it is interspersed throughout In the Slender Margin to complement similar thematic passages. This is an especially successful technique because it not only locates the moment when death had an immediate effect on Joseph’s life, but also conjures up the reader’s own memories of the first time they encountered death and how that experience shaped their attitudes towards death and dying. When the adult Joseph tracks down her brother’s thesis to read in the University of British Columbia library, the chapter is extremely moving. Joseph is an illustrative and evocative writer, and readers will truly feels like they are there with Joseph living this transcendent and ultimately poignant moment.
Joseph’s book discusses several theories and belief systems from religion, philosophy, psychology, and mythology, among other schools of thoughts, for an all-encompassing, interdisciplinary discussion. For example, Joseph joins theories on the grief and loss from Salish culture (the Salish are an indigenous peoples from Canada) to beliefs from Judaism, the Kabbalah, and Islam within just a few paragraphs from each other, yet Joseph’s narrative remains remarkably cohesive. Joseph has a remarkable command of how death, dying, and the afterlife are portrayed and interpreted across many cultures. She avoids sounding pretentious or unfocused and has a rare ability to synthesize information in a coherent yet lyrical way.
It is impossible to close In the Slender Margin and not feel more enlightened about death and dying. Joseph’s book indeed feels intimate as Joseph is so generous with her own history. And at 224 pages, In the Slender Margin is not intimidating, although it also shouldn’t be devoured in one sitting. The reader will want to linger over Joseph’s lush prose and contemplate the heavy concepts. It is accessible yet intimately personal. The book will be a comfort to readers who must confront death, either their own or as a survivor trying to grieve when faced with devastating loss.
In the Slender Margin: The Intimate Strangeness of Death and Dying
Arcade Publishing, January 2016
Hardcover, 224 pages