“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.
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.
Jessica Findley's stop motion trailer for Sarah Manguso's The Guardians.
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.
“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, Oprah.com, “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
An Elegy for a Friend