Without their hysterical imaginings, we would be stuck with Kronos alone. Then, there would be no beauty, no love—just the god of limits bringing down the sickle.
Into this morass daringly comes Daphne Merkin with the long-awaited chronicle of her own consuming despair. Merkin was born into circumstances of plenty, the poor little rich girl; she is not interested in universalizing, though she often does so almost inadvertently. In the earlier part of her memoir, her tight focus on her own story at the expense of anyone else’s can come off as self-indulgent, even self-aggrandizing, but it is part of her considerable art that by the end, it feels like a winning frankness. The reader is saved from diaristic fatigue by the sharpness of her observations. She is not out to demystify life on Park Avenue, nor even to apologize for it, but only to explain her experience, which happens to have unfolded there. She does not try to unpack the function of the amygdala, avoids all the statistics about the rate of the illness and does not apologize for her descents into darkness. Instead, she narrates what happened and how it felt to her. And she does so with insight, grace and excruciating clarity, in exquisite and sometimes darkly humorous prose. The same tinge of self-aware narcissism that makes the book at times so annoying makes it finally triumphant. Merkin is unlikely to cheer you up, but if your misery loves company, you will find no better companion. This is not a how-to-get-better book, but we hardly need another one of those; it is a how-to-be-desolate book, which is an altogether more crucial manual.
Good novels are constructed; they may seem effortless in their design, but they are planned as purposely as a well-built house. Good stories have an admirable architecture, and both an apparent and transparent craftsmanship. In a novel, the construction counts. Kevin Wilson, the author of a much acclaimed debut novel, “The Family Fang,” knows how to construct a story.
James Sharman, a veteran of some of the world’s best kitchens, knew the logistics of hosting a dinner party on Everest were going to be difficult, but by the time he arrived at Base Camp, north of 17,500 feet, the plan seemed like it was verging on madness. Sharman, with four chef friends and eight porters, had just hauled up 16 blue plastic chairs (one for each paying customer), three wooden tables (two for dining, one for prep), and enough cooking supplies to feed 25 people. As the culinary team surveyed the craggy outcrops for an ice-free, level-enough patch of rock on which to serve dinner, a small avalanche cascaded down the mountain above them.
Such are the difficulties of hosting a Michelin-quality dinner at the foot of the tallest mountain on earth.