A Dazzling Humorist Returns With a Deep Dive Into Loss

GRIEF IS FOR PEOPLE, by Sloane Crosley

Sloane Crosley opens her new book, “Grief Is for People,” with an explanation: “Container first, emotion second.” It’s a four-word guide for the reader: Relieve yourself of the need to understand, and open your mind to the experience of death, suicide and the emotional debris found when you consider the ultimate inevitability.

“Grief Is for People” is Crosley’s eighth book (counting the novel she co-wrote under a pen name and the anthology she edited) and her first memoir. In it, she ties together two losses she suffered in 2019. The first: the theft of a collection of jewelry, including a beloved green cocktail ring that Crosley inherited from her grandmother, which was stolen when Crosley’s home was burglarized one afternoon. Threaded with it is the death of Crosley’s close friend, mentor and former boss, Russell Perreault, who worked for years as the executive director of publicity and social media for Penguin Random House’s Vintage Books imprint. He took his own life just one month after Crosley’s home was broken into, and the close timing of both events intertwines them emotionally for her, ultimately altering the experience of both losses in her memory and hindering her ability to process either.

The memoir is divided into five sections that allude to Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief: Denial, Bargaining, Anger, Depression and Afterward (instead of acceptance). In each section, Crosley dissects her memories for missed warning signs, lamenting her inability to predict what, and who, would soon be gone from her life. In the Depression, Anger and Bargaining sections, she anxiously considers if this was the moment that changed everything or maybe it was that one; she wonders if there was a right question she could have asked Perreault, something to say that would have rescued him from his fate.

Perreault was a robust and complicated figure — he was a friend and mentor to Crosley, yes, but, as Crosley recounts, he also faced a series of complaints about his conduct inside the workplace and was confronting a host of other unknowns (to the author and to us). After his death, Crosley wants to know much more about him. She interrogates every interaction from their time together, especially those nearest to the tragedy. She wonders about the lack of invitations to his home in upstate New York, which, it turns out, Perreault had begun filling with more and more objects. (“He wasn’t a hoarder per se, but he was engaging in a land grab for the past, for souvenirs of a more contented time.”)

A vein of tension in Crosley’s memoir is the desire to hold the memory of Perreault close, while trying to anticipate what life will be without him. Without his living voice present, she’s left to sift through old text messages and wonder “where everything I loved has gone and why.”

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