The Last Book I Loved: The Two Kinds of Decay


I was telling a friend about Sarah Manguso’s The Two Kinds of Decay.

I said, “It’s about a woman whose blood tried to kill her,” and my friend hunched over, like I’d thrown something at her head or someone had just punched her gut. Her eyes twisted at me.

“She was constantly getting blood transfusions and feeling like she was about to die,” I said, knowing that was a crude, inadequate description of a book I had been so attentive to. I read three times, compulsively going to the park each afternoon, as if I couldn’t see the words unless I was lying in the sun on soft grass.

“I can’t read about things like that,” my friend said.


She grimaced. “I don’t want to know about sickness, sick people,” she said.

“But this is what can happen to your body. Even if you do everything healthy that you can, things can happen. Decay is going to happen.”

“I don’t believe in that,” she said, or maybe she didn’t say exactly that, but this is the truth. Everything she eats is organic and nutrient dense and no animal anything and nothing with a wrapper. She is almost forty but her skin looks a healthy fourteen. Every effort possible is made to divide her from the world of hospitals and lost time that The Two Kinds of Decay explores so deeply.

She will probably never read it, but everyone else should. It will make you uncomfortable. You’ll have to think about things that you would probably rather not think about, like having a plastic tube sewn into your chest, having your ass wiped by a woman who was once a cheerleader at your high school, and having all your blood sucked out, cleaned and put back in your body. On each page Manguso asks the reader to be with her in that moment, however potent or brutal.

Manguso began writing the book eleven years after she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease which disrupted her freshman year in college and so many years after. She remembers the experience in short, tightly woven chapters that are completely void of sentiment or self-pity. The images are so clear and intimate that I encountered each sentence as if it was a part of my own memory; these hot coals of her story burned my hands as I tried to hold them.

Catherine Lacey is the author of the novels The Answers and Nobody Is Ever Missing. She has won a Whiting Award, was a finalist for the NYPL's Young Lions Fiction Award, and was named one of Granta Magazine's Best Young American Novelists in 2017. Her novels have been translated into French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, and German. With Forsyth Harmon, she co-authored a nonfiction book, The Art of the Affair, published by Bloomsbury. Her first short story collection, Certain American States will be released in August 2018. A third novel is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus, & Giroux. More from this author →