Welcome to This Week in Books, where we highlight books just released by small and independent presses. Books have always been a symbol for and means of spreading knowledge and wisdom, and they are an important part of our toolkit in fighting for social justice. If we’re going to move our national narrative away from one of hate and fear, we need books that display empathy, that help us understand different points of view, that show us we aren’t alone, that feed our spirits.
This week, we’ll look at Sorry to Disrupt the Peace (McSweeney’s, March 2017), a debut novel from Patty Yumi Cottrell. This book has already generated some serious buzz—it is a Barnes & Noble Discover New Writers selection for 2017, has been making the rounds on several most anticipated books of the year lists, and has received excellent critical reviews—which normally would mean I’d simply pick another book that was getting less attention.
But I decided to write about this book anyway, for one big reason: We don’t talk about suicide enough, and there’s so much stigma and shame around the topic that it causes even more pain to those considering suicide and its “survivors.”
Sorry to Disrupt the Peace tells the story of Helen, whose adopted brother kills himself. Helen gives up her life in New York City to investigate her brother’s death, which means also confronting her estranged family in Milwaukee. You can already guess that this is not easy, and forces Helen to turn her gaze inward even as she seeks to understand her family and her brother.
But this book isn’t only sad and depressing. It’s also funny and absurd—just like life. Lindsay Hunter, author of Ugly Girls, said in her blurb for the book:
Sorry to Disrupt the Peace had me opening my mouth to laugh only to feel sobs come tumbling out. It’s absurd, feeling so much at once, but it’s a distinctly human absurdity that Patty Yumi Cottrell has masterfully created in this book. In the end I felt ebullient and spent, grateful to be reminded that life is only funny and gorgeous because life is also strange and sad.
We are taught to look away from our feelings of discomfort and sadness. We are expected to get over our grief right after the funeral, or at least hide it when we’re in polite society. I think this is bullshit, and that’s why I love books like this one and feel they are necessary reading. They force us to lean into the discomfort and grief of characters like Helen, and in so doing, lean into our own discomfort and grief.
Suicide isn’t something that happens only rarely. 121 people die from suicide every day in the United States, according to The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. It’s the tenth leading cause of death. And those statistics don’t count the ways in which we slowly kill ourselves (smoking, alcohol, drugs) in attempts to numb whatever pain we’re feeling. Sometimes the peace needs to be disrupted, and Cottrell does so with stunning wit, humor, and yes, tender sadness.
Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Sorry to Disrupt the Peace here. You won’t be sorry you did.
Logo art by Max Winter.