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Review: Lifesaving for Beginners by Anne Edelstein

What happens when someone you have mixed feelings about dies? What happens when that someone is your mother? In her first memoir, Anne Edelstein examines just that as she details —often by means of looking to the past for answers—the initial years following her mother’s sudden death.

“As the anniversary of my mother’s death approaches, I feel like I’m somehow running out of time, trying to figure out how much I loved my mother.” - Anne Edelstein

With the news of her mother’s drowning, she finds herself overwhelmed by a number of past discontentment that has resurfaced after never being properly put to rest; starting with the violent suicide of her young brother years before, we see the inscrutable role death has played in her life like a parasitic ivy enveloping her family tree. It can take a long time to ease into the cold waters of death, no matter how familiar, and the tenuous relationship she once shared with her mother makes it all the harder by muddying the waters. Over the course of three years, she struggles to untangle a delicate past and know what it all means for the future of her family.

Edelstein gives an especially raw look into an unconventional mourning with sincere bravery and vulnerability. She offers us a glimpse into the complicated and not always guiltless feelings she met in the aftermath of her mother’s death, while still in the shadow of her brother’s. At times it could seem that Edelstein was claiming a certain victimhood and, while that often lent itself to a narrative rife with allegation, it is a by-product of her candor. She dares to say the difficult things that can so often feel unmentionable. This memoir will rouse the hearts of anyone who has experienced the inherent complications of family; anyone who has known the cruel inevitability of death; anyone who has loved. By coming to terms with a severe past, Edelstein offers a unique but reliable hope. There is real connection to be made in Lifesaving for Beginners.

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