The Guardians

An Elegy for a Friend

Sarah Manguso


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“An unidentified white man was struck and instantly killed by a Metro-North train last night,” reported the July 24, 2008, edition of the Riverdale Press. This man was named Harris, and The Guardians—written in the years after he escaped from a psychiatric hospital and ended his life—is Sarah Manguso’s heartbreaking elegy.

Harris was a man who “played music, wrote software, wrote music, learned to drive, went to college, went to bed with girls.” In The Guardians, Manguso grieves not for family or for a lover, but for a best friend. With startling humor and candor, she paints a portrait of a friendship between a man and a woman—in all its unexpected detail—and shows that love and grief do not always take the shapes we expect them to.

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The Thursday edition of the Riverdale Press carried a story that began An unidentified white man was struck and instantly killed by a Metro-North train last night as it pulled into the Riverdale station on West 254th Street.
The train’s engineer told the police that the man was alone and that he jumped. The police officers pulled the body from the track and found no identification. The train’s 425 passengers were transferred to another train and delayed about twenty minutes.
*   *   *
If I were a journalist I’d have spoken to everyone and

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A second trailer for The Guardians.

Jessica Findley's stop motion trailer for Sarah Manguso's The Guardians.

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The Guardians trailer

The Guardians is an elegy for Manguso’s friend Harris, two years after he escaped from a psychiatric hospital and jumped under that train. The narrative contemplates with unrelenting clarity their crowded postcollege apartment, Manguso’s fellowship year in Rome, Harris’s death and the year that followed—the year of mourning and the year of Manguso’s marriage.

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Other People with Brad Listi

Topics of conversation include: grief, suicide, friendship, mystery, memory, artifacts, death, Italy, psychosis, therapy, reality, talking dogs, youth, mental illness, crystalline awareness, autoimmune disease, paralysis, funerals, good moods, self-protection, Manhattan, Chambers Street, Brooklyn, Harris’s penis, sex, Cambridge, Harvard, chemistry, composers, sex, kindness, temporal remove, attention span, truth, panic, time, and sentimentality.

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Praise for The Guardians

“Memoirs about grief often concern a relative or partner, but Manguso’s offers a revealing perspective on simple friendship and on a formative period of early adulthood when choices are made and selfhood solidifies.”—The New Yorker

“‘Nobody understands how I feel,’ we often think (mistakenly) in times of loss. But Manguso not only understands, she can articulate it in the precisest and most unexpected of images—an unrelated car accident, a bowl of Italian candies, a swim in the ocean. What results is a memoir that reveals not the just intimacies of the writer's life, but of your own. Most moving is that The Guardians covers a subject so rarely recognized in our society, the grief from the death of a friend.” —Leigh Newman,, “Book of the Week”

“Sarah Manguso’s The Guardians goes to hell and back . . . The book majors in bone-on-bone rawness, exposed nerve endings . . . With The Guardians, I did something I do when I love a book: start covering my mouth when I read; this is very pure and elemental, and I wanted nothing coming between me and the page.” —David Shields, Los Angeles Review of Books

“A bittersweet elegy to a friend who ‘eloped’ from a locked psychiatric ward . . . [Manguso] explores the extent to which we are our friends’ guardians and, in outliving them, the guardians of their memory . . . Manguso’s writing manages, in carefully honed bursts of pointed, poetic observation, to transcend the darkness and turn it into something beautiful. The results are also deeply instructive, not in the manner we’ve come to fatuously call “self-help” but in the way that good literature expands and illuminates our realm of experience.” —Heller McAlpin, Barnes and Noble Review

“Shortly after returning home from a fellowship year in Rome, poet and memoirist Sarah Manguso received word that her old college friend Harris had fled a psychiatric hospital and jumped in front of a train. In The Guardians: An Elegy, the writer explores, in prose that singes with precision and honesty, the many ambiguities surrounding the tragedy . . . A long friendship is a crucial orientation point, and Manguso captures with great delicacy the spinning compass of her grief, and its accompanying jumble of anger, disappointments, corrupted memories—and love.” —Megan O'Grady, Vogue

“Packs an emotional wallop into small, patterned movements.”—The Onion  A.V. Club

“In The Guardians, Sarah Manguso holds up two kinds of love: the love for someone willfully at one’s side (the new husband) and the love for someone willfully gone (the dear friend, a suicide). The limitations and complexities of romantic love played out in the present are here haunted on all sides by the simple expansiveness of platonic love, especially as seen through the lens of mourning. The living cannot compete with the dead. But marriage has its rights before any friendship. The mystery of where Manguso’s heart will land propels us through this vivid meditation.” —Sheila Heti, author of How Should a Person Be?

“Sarah Manguso’s is a disarming and yet infectiously charming style, one that mixes intimate personal reflection with curiously distanced observations of the world. What this ends up feeling like while reading The Guardians is a tension that’s both inviting and simultaneously alienating, a wounded sort of intellect that wants to protect and yet expose itself to the reader. It’s a beautifully sad meditation—as exhilarating as it is devastating.” —John D’Agata, author of About a Mountain

“Manguso is a deliberate and exact stylist….At her best, she has some of Didion’s rhythms, her watchfulness and remove, her way of drawing attention to her own fragility….A fiercely personal book.”—The Cleveland Plain Dealer

In the Press

Work in Progress » Blog Archive » How to Have a Career: Advice to Young Writers
by Sarah Manguso Work. Be relentless. All over the world, people are working harder than you. Don’t go to events; go to the receptions after the events. If possible, skip the receptions and go to the afterparties, where you can have a real conversation with someone. Money. Learn to live on air. Buy the best health insurance you can afford.
- FSG's Work in Progress

'The Guardians: An Elegy' by Sarah Manguso: Book review -
Book review: In reckoning with her friend's suicide in 'The Guardians,' Sarah Manguso pulls readers into that empty space where loss and grief reside.
- Los Angeles Times

Bookslut | The Guardians: An Elegy by Sarah Manguso
Book reviews, interviews, columns, and musings.
- Bookslut

An elegy to a lost friend -
A bittersweet memoir about a friend's suicide provides a beautiful meditation on grief and loss
- Salon

Before the Fall: Sarah Manguso’s The Guardians: An Elegy - Culture - Vogue
Loss has long prompted many a writer to take up their pens in recompense, but now, thanks to Meghan O’Rourke’s The Long Goodbye and Joan Didion’s Blue Nights, the memoir-as-elegy is having a moment of its own.
- Vogue

The Guardians, review of-Sarah Manguso -
Every Monday, we'll be letting you know about new releases the editors at O and couldn't stop reading. This week, we've been haunted by the...

Sarah Manguso: ‘I revise the sentences in my diary from day to day’ - GalleyCat
Sarah Manguso: ‘I revise the sentences in my diary from day to day’
- Galley Cat

Reviews from Goodreads


About the Author

Sarah Manguso

Sarah Manguso is the author of a memoir, The Two Kinds of Decay; two books of poetry, Siste Viator and The Captain Lands in Paradise; and a short-story collection, Hard to Admit and Harder to Escape.

Sarah Manguso

© Andy Ryan
Sarah Manguso


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Available Formats and Book Details

The Guardians
An Elegy for a Friend
Sarah Manguso

Trade Paperback

Trade Paperback
March 2013
Trade Paperback
ISBN: 9781250024152
ISBN10: 1250024153
5 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches, 128 pages

e-Book Agency

e-Book Agency
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
February 2012
e-Book Agency
ISBN: 9781429950220
ISBN10: 1429950226
128 pages, Notes/Bibliography

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