BookBrowse Reviews The Still Point of the Turning World by Emily Rapp

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Still Point of the Turning World

by Emily Rapp

The Still Point of the Turning World by Emily Rapp X
The Still Point of the Turning World by Emily Rapp
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Mar 2013, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2014, 272 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


In The Still Point of the Turning World Emily Rapp turns to philosophy, religious traditions, and literature in an attempt to make sense of the unfathomable.

For the last several years, one of my favorite bands has been Cloud Cult. Their upbeat lyrics and peppy melodies belie a darker past, one characterized by the sudden death of the lead singer's very young son. Since that time, much of what Cloud Cult has sung about is this loss and what comes after. As I read Emily Rapp's shattering new memoir, The Still Point of the Turning World, I was reminded of Cloud Cult, and marveled again at the desire - bordering on compulsion - of so many artists to record this experience of grief and loss, not to capitalize on it but because they have no choice.

When Rapp's son Ronan began missing his developmental milestones shortly after his six-month birthday, Rapp and her husband took him to an ophthalmologist who confirmed their worst fears - Ronan had Tay-Sachs disease, a genetic enzyme deficiency with no known cure and the prognosis of rapid neurological decline and certain death within months or very few years. Following the expected - and completely justified - raging and weeping in the wake of this catastrophic diagnosis, Rapp focused on two things: mothering her son as best she could in the time they had left together, and drawing on her considerable knowledge of philosophy, religious traditions, and literature in an attempt to make sense of the unfathomable.

Recalling what it felt like to contemplate writing in those first days and weeks following her young son's diagnosis, Rapp says, "I am a writer. I write. And just as I had written through every experience, euphoric or horrific, throughout my life, I began to document the daily happenings of my son's short life. Once I started I didn't - I couldn't - stop." Rapp examines her son's all-too-brief life - and her own reactions to it - fearlessly and with an honesty that will devastate and astonish not only other parents, but everyone who opens this remarkable book.

As Rapp begins to connect online and in person with the small handful of other parents coping with imminent or recent losses due to Tay-Sachs and related diseases, she dubs them "dragon parents," parents who are doing their jobs without models and without nets. Gone are Rapp's hopes and expectations that her son will attend a prestigious college or master a musical instrument or even learn to walk. Instead, she is left with the unexpected duty and, at times, surprising delight of just being with her son, of imagining his life not as a progression toward some imaginable future but as a series of infinitely small present moments, unrelated to what has come before and after. "That was my role as a dragon mother," she writes," to protect my child from wickedness and as much suffering as possible and then, finally, to do the hardest thing of all, a thing most parents will thankfully never have to do: let him go."

Rapp's thinking about Ronan is informed both by her own personal history - she wears a prosthetic leg after a congenital birth defect resulted in the amputation of her leg as a young girl - and by her rich background of reading and writing. Rapp, whose previous memoir (Poster Child) dealt to a large extent with issues of difference, disability, and humanity, considers many of the same issues here, as she addresses seemingly unanswerable questions about genetic predetermination, fate, and the reaction of "normal" people to issues of disability and, in the case of Ronan, imminent death. Rapp intersperses her own gut-wrenching prose (one particularly moving litany on grief reads in part, "Grief is...Waiting for someone to change the subject / Ink spilled on white pants or a white sheet: ink from a pen, ink from a squid, blue-black and slimy / Sighing a lot / Feeling naked in private and feeling private in public / Running amok") with the words and wisdom of others, including the poets Seamus Heaney and Wislawa Szymborska, the philosopher Georg Hegel, the Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, and particularly the novelist Mary Shelley, whose Frankenstein Rapp returns to again and again, approaching it from various directions. Rapp's memoir manages to be simultaneously personal and erudite, and its numerous allusions do not distance the reader from the powerful emotions at hand but rather encourage delving ever deeper into the painful and provocative questions she raises.

As she wrote this memoir, Rapp chronicled her son's life in a blog called Little Seal, which has already brought hundreds of thousands of people to Ronan's story and to Rapp's exquisite contemplation of it. Ronan died while I was reading the memoir, just a few weeks shy of his third birthday. Outpourings of grief continued to spread across the Internet for this boy most blog readers never knew, and for his mother who has, through his story, shown us how to think deeply and carefully not only about how to parent and how to love but also about how to be human.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl

This review was originally published in March 2013, and has been updated for the February 2014 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Tay-Sachs Disease

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    Grace
    by Paul Lynch
    Harrowing. Gorgeous. Epic. Grace, Paul Lynch's coming of age novel about a young woman, is set ...
  • Book Jacket: The Perfectionists
    The Perfectionists
    by Simon Winchester
    We seek precision in our lives every day. We want to drive from home to work and work to home safely...
  • Book Jacket: Beauty in the Broken Places
    Beauty in the Broken Places
    by Allison Pataki
    Ernest Hemingway wrote that we are "strong at the broken places," and Allison Pataki found that to ...
  • Book Jacket
    Love and Other Consolation Prizes
    by Jamie Ford
    Love and Other Consolation Prizes was read and reviewed by 22 BookBrowse members for First ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Twelve-Mile Straight by Eleanor Henderson

An audacious American epic set in rural Georgia during the years of the Depression and Prohibition.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Family Tabor
    by Cherise Wolas

    Wolas's gorgeously rendered sophomore novel reckons with the nature of the stories we tell ourselves.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Clock Dance
    by Anne Tyler

    A delightful novel of one woman's transformative journey, from the best-selling and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win A Place for Us

A Place For Us

A deeply moving story of love, identity and belonging--the first novel from Sarah Jessica Parker's new imprint.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

H, W H A Problem

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.