Cover Image: What Are You Going Through

What Are You Going Through

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Member Reviews

Imaginative, compulsively readable, I think this book should've been much more popular. There's a monologue by a talking cat. Sigrid Nunez is brilliant -- the plot of the story is pretty depressing, but she makes the material feel warm and bright.
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“I don’t know who it was, but someone, maybe or maybe not Henry James, said that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who upon seeing someone else suffering think, That could happen to me, and those who think, That will never happen to me. The first kind of people help us to endure, the second kind make life hell.”

Such a short novel with very huge themes is the best way I could describe this book that hit all bookstores today! An unnamed woman narrates the reader through various life experiences and relationships culminating in her decision to do a favor for a friend with terminal cancer. The favor? Accompany the friend on a trip in which the friend will at some point end her own life. 

Examining the meaning of life & death & what true companionship/friendship looks like throughout the span of life, this slow-moving novel asks a lot from the Reader.
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Written in what appears to be a series of ruminations about the choices we make, this is also the story of a life coming to an end, as well as a story about friendship, love, estrangement and loss. If you enjoyed Nunez' The Friend, you are likely to enjoy this short but powerful one as well.
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This was a really sweet book, but it wasn't very memorable. I think it had to do the writing style. It's very stream-of-consciousness which I found very distracting and muddled. Sigrid Nunez has a lot of promise as an author, but I just wish his prose wasn't so hard to follow. There were many emotional beats and moments throughout this story, but I was disappointed overall.
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I struggled to get through this book - partly due to my own doing but it took me time to get into it. I did enjoy the Friend and the writing style was similar.  I did ultimately finish it and did enjoy the story and the thread that was woven throughout. I will still recommend to this title to those interested in the topic of end of life issues, assisted suicide, and readers that like the author’s previous titles.
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Thanks, Riverhead & NetGalley for the e-copy for review. 
DNFed at 28%. 

There seems to be a rise in literary fiction books with unnamed, detached narrators who provide seemingly random details about a variety of topics. While I’ve enjoyed this style before, What Are You Going Through just did not work for me. The narrator tells detailed stories about events in her life and the lives of people she knows: we read almost the entirety of a doomsday climate talk, and multiple pages detailing a misogynistic crime novel. I was intrigued to see where the climate change discussions would go, since it was briefly reminding me of Weather by Jenny Offill. However, it features so many asides talking about other women, shaming them for their bodies, and assuming what they must be thinking and judging them for it, and I’m just not interested in reading any further.
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A great read that really makes you think about everyday life and the experience you have. It was a book I did not want to put down. It tackles things like human connection, empathy, hardships. A beautifully written novel.
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Our unnamed narrator is caring for a friend with a terminal cancer diagnosis. Or as her friend prefers, a fatal diagnosis. As she spends time with her friend, the narrator also shares conversations with strangers - an Airbnb host, a friend of a friend, someone in a gym locker room - all focused on aging, death, and reconciling the person you wanted to be with the person you've become. 

This is everything I love about Sigrid Nunez. It's the kind of quiet brilliance that gets under your skin and changes your perspective without you really noticing. Nunez's writing seems so honest and spare, but will also suddenly take your breath away. It's difficult to explain; you really must read it for yourself.
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This is a wonderful, wonderful book.  For a book about a friend dying of cancer as well as other sad topics, it's actually quite funny.  The narrator (first person) givens us an account of her activities, conversations, readings, thoughts, and memories in a stream of consciousness that does not strike an artificial note of experimentation but feels incredibly genuine, as though one is the friend (the dying friend?) in conversation with the narrator.  All of the stories the narrator tells connect through their preoccupation with grief, regret, and memory, but they are told with such immediacy that the reader (or at least this one) doesn't feel struck by an artificially constructed , heavy-handed focus on theme.  It's a marvelous book.
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In What Are You Going Through, the narrator encounters the phenomenon that sometimes happens as you get older where you are past forming new relationships and your old ones have moved and changed. One friend is approaching death from cancer and she captures the absurdity and how a person changes during that journey so well - this is not a Lifetime movie.

At the same time I'm having a hard time letting this stick to my bones - it's probably too close to my actual experiences to feel all that memorable. I see truth here but it's truth I already know. Which in the end is a bit of a strange reading experience.

I wanted to read it because I really loved her last book, The Friend. The style and themes are really quite similar but if I were to recommend a starting place it would be The Friend first.
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I'm not usually a fan of the stream of consciousness style of writing, but this one really worked for me.  It flowed naturally like a beautiful piece of classical music, and like the narrator's friend says, at times it felt like it was "too serious, too moving, too unbearably sad."  

At the beginning, I felt like the narrator was trying to connect with the various people she talked to, yet was not fully able to do so.  She relays the voices of her ex-boyfriend who gives lectures on how mankind has destroyed the earth and the selfish nature of humans ("Self-care, relieving one's own everyday anxieties, avoiding stress: these had become some of our society's highest goals").  Her friend also echos these thoughts (she had never seen anyone who could be said to have become a better person by doing yoga, she said, unless being a better person meant feeling better about yourself).  Yet the narrator herself never really states her true feelings.

Instead, she speaks of the inadequacy of language:  "I knew that whatever I might manage to describe would turn out to be, at best, somewhere to the side of the thing, while the thing itself slipped past me, like the cat you never even see escape when you open the house door."  The stories she tells of others illustrate suffering, the need to be loved, and how difficult it is to connect.

Yet, by the narrator spending time with and standing by her terminally-ill friend, we do see a beautiful connection develop. Again, she doesn't describe her feelings toward her friend, but you can just feel it. As the main focus of the book is on this friend's decision to end her life with dignity, this is certainly a book about the meaning of life and death.  The author's talent is in making you feel, without explaining, both the pain and joy of being alive.  My words could not do it justice, but as trite as it may sound, this novel is beautiful and poignant.
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Was this really a novel?  Hard to tell.  It felt more like a very long essay.  I can see the truth and importance in the author's words but can't really say I liked the book.  The narrative did so much wandering all over the place that I found myself sometimes bored with it and waiting for something - anything - to happen.
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"Every now and then she would squeeze my hand without saying anything—without needing to say anything—but it was as if she had squeezed my heart."

This book at its core is about accompanying someone throughout their dying journey. The main character's friend is dying and she is helping her through her grieving process, coming to terms, making decisions and being her company. There are other bits about the main character's ex and AirBnB owners, etc but, to me, it was mostly about the friend she was helping.

"To die in despair. The phrase came to me, and all the water in the room turned to ice. It must not happen. It must not be allowed to happen. My friend was shrieking now. Oh, what is this, what the fuck is this. It was life, that’s what. Life going on, in spite of everything. Messy life. Unfair life. Life that must be"

I loved reading about their relationship and all the ways in which she was helping her friend. I love seeing the ways in which relationships and connections have changed and what we can each be for each other. the decisions we have to and get to make. The grieving process and how sad and unpredictable and infuriating it can be.  

"The meaning of life is that it stops. Of course it would have been a writer who came up with the answer. Of course that writer would have been Kafka. "

I found it hard to connect with this novel even as I really liked parts of it. I don't think it will be everyone's cup of tea but, in the end, I am glad I read it. 

with gratitude to netgalley and Riverhead Books for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Thank you to Riverhead Books and NetGalley for the Advanced Reader's Copy!

Now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble 

What does it mean to tackle the end of life? Almost autobiographical, Sigrid Nunez's latest novel "What Are You Going Through" is a series of musings on life, death and everything in between by an aging female writer as she provides support to a friend dying slowly from cancer. Artistically wrought, each sentence feels almost tortured in its simplicity yet resounding depth. Overall, Nunez questions the tenuousness of life and the impact we can have on each other through the simple art of conversation. Soothing yet unsettling, it's an interesting concept but still felt overworked.
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At 224 pages, 𝘞𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘈𝘳𝘦 𝘠𝘰𝘶 𝘎𝘰𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘛𝘩𝘳𝘰𝘶𝘨𝘩 is a quick but intense, thought-provoking, and beautifully written book with both heartbreak and humor.

The unnamed narrator, a writer and teacher offers keen and sometimes sardonic impressions of the people she encounters, mostly older women, although my favorite of her exchanges might be with a kitten at an Airbnb. She also agrees to visit an elderly neighborhood who, after a stay at the hospital becomes so bombastic her son jokes he fears Fox News implanted a chip in her brain.

For the beginning of the book, most of the descriptions are interesting and colorful but at arm’s length—until a dear friend, a former roommate, asks for a significant and weighty favor that makes her a key actor in the story.

While I don’t think this is a book that will appeal to all readers, I think fans of character-driven literary fiction, and of course those who enjoyed Nunez’s previous book, 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘍𝘳𝘪𝘦𝘯𝘥, will appreciate the artistry of the book and it’s attention to themes of aging and mortality, particularly for women.
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This incredibly quiet book reminds us that not everything important is said in loud voices. The story isn’t complex. A woman helps a terminally ill friends through her last few months of life. The story juxtaposes with a lecture the healthy woman goes to about the dire state of the world’s climate—also foretelling death of the planet. As with everyone’s life, there are emergencies to be dealt with in this case a flood in the patient’s apartment. I’d call this a “thinking person’s book” and while it won’t be for everyone, those who are captured by the quiet intelligence of the Nunez’s writing will savor the messages of life and love.
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I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I love Sigrid Nunez. It's frustrating seeing reviews that can't handle a non-linear plot - I don't know what to say to those other than grow up? The structure feels especially relevant during quarantine, loaded with asides & reminiscences, and is the strength of the book. It feels natural, the way you would process a momentous, impactful period of your life and pull out all the other memories that led up to it. Her prose is smooth and easy to read. The way she's able to put the extremely isolating, incomprehensible ways we feel grief into words makes you feel less alone.
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𝐀𝐧 𝐚𝐥𝐢𝐞𝐧 𝐨𝐧𝐞 𝐝𝐚𝐲 𝐬𝐭𝐮𝐝𝐲𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐜𝐨𝐥𝐥𝐚𝐩𝐬𝐞 𝐦𝐢𝐠𝐡𝐭 𝐰𝐞𝐥𝐥 𝐜𝐨𝐧𝐜𝐥𝐮𝐝𝐞: 𝐅𝐫𝐞𝐞𝐝𝐨𝐦 𝐰𝐚𝐬 𝐭𝐨𝐨 𝐦𝐮𝐜𝐡 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐦. 𝐓𝐡𝐞𝐲 𝐰𝐨𝐮𝐥𝐝 𝐫𝐚𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐫 𝐛𝐞 𝐬𝐥𝐚𝐯𝐞𝐬.

This truly is a smart book, as summarized the narrator describes “a series of encounters she has with various people in the ordinary course of her life.” These aren’t stories about people dying with dignity, or mothering their difficult (now adult) child with ease and flawless devotion. Characters are pissed off to be stricken with terminal cancer, or aging without grace. Let’s face it, despite commercials and stories to the contrary, age is often a lonely island, that person in the mirror, if you’re brave enough to confront them, can look like a terrifying, rotting creature. For the emotions our narrator’s friend is dealing with alone, I give this book four stars. It’s not generally like the movies, where people come to accept their cancer (or other illnesses) with grace and almost religious fervor. It is monstrously painful, some sick cosmic joke or betrayal. Come to think of it, old age too starts to feel like a horror story. Maybe it’s different if you have buckets of money to maintain your youth, I’ll never know. “What a nasty trick life had played on her”, I think that is the saddest story ever told!

People need to talk, the dam inside of us has to find its release and the writer in this book is an outlet. That we can find humor in our human suffering because “if you don’t laugh you’ll cry” can be applied to nearly everything the universe dumps on us. Life is made of beautiful things- sure but there will be disappointments, ingrates, liars, heartbreaks, affairs, illnesses, exasperating children, torment, pain and general chaos that we likely will never understand. It is almost an obligation for being alive, suffering unpredictable torments. It’s made so much worse when people with ‘good intentions’ try to make light of one’s pain, rather than just giving them the space to endure it, bitterly or not.

There are repulsive, slightly threatening encounters women tell expressing what it feels like to be a woman from being subjected to catcalls to being invisible. Beauty, ugliness, youth, age nothing holds steady, not for anyone.

When the friend from her youth makes a request, it’s bigger than she imagined, no longer can she remain the audience. It’s as if life has completed a strange circle, a conversation that began in her college years coming to fruition. It may well be an experience that “shows her the way”, a unique adventure.

I chuckled about the becoming a better person through yoga reflections, someone had to say it. What smacked me is the idea of a life lived in health dragging out the agony of disease. Life and it’s horrific ironies! Time that drags or speeds away, hostilities, memories, pity, and the happiness of childhood- so much to rehash, all of it rushing back towards the end.

I laughed a lot reading the stories about everyone she encounters, but I often felt a mean pinch in my heart because some of the telling is painfully sad. I wonder if I would have read this book the same if I were younger, I feel like having been wrung out in life makes it far easier to relate to the intelligence within, even when it thumbs its nose at wisdom, it manages to be wise. How is it I have never read this author’s sharp writing before? I enjoyed being her audience.

Published September 8, 2020 Available Now

Penguin Group

Riverhead Books
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Sigrid Nunez allows every reader a world to peer into- a small chasm that is flooded with a light that she provides, like a torch in a cellar. She is brilliant as ever in this book as she gives infinite empathy to characters that don’t always deserve it, but are always allowed it anyway,
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Absolutely beautiful. A meandering of voices and situations that will linger with you long after you finish the last page. To be savored and enjoyed. Shows  the power of empathy and rings with the truth of what we're dealing with today. A must read. Happy reading!
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