ES: I’ve read other interviews where you talk about how there are expected ways you are supposed to grieve, and supposed to talk about grief, and the difficulty of deviating from that. Do you think that part of what makes grief such compelling writing material is that, often, there’s not much space to talk about it otherwise?
SM: Well, definitely. Part of what you just said about the difficulty of deviating from the sanctioned ways of talking about grief — in my experience, it turned every conversation about grief into a real conversation killer, because whether we’re conscious of it or not, there are these largely agreed upon modes of grieving and modes of talking about grief and modes of reading about grief, which, of course, follow. I found that all of the familiar ways in the culture of talking about grief and doing grief had almost no resemblance to the experience that I was actually having. That was the existential problem that impelled me to write The Guardians. It wasn’t this need to add one more book to the utter shitpile of books about dead people — shitpile is probably not the word for it, maybe we can edit that out later.
This weeping-by-candlelight image, the real inaccuracy that is our culture’s agreed-upon method of grieving, the one people are comfortable with — that didn’t comfort me one bit. I wanted to write about the vibrating acute experience of grief — it sort of turns on and then turns off, almost like chronic pain whose source is poorly understood. And then there were these derangements that I was undergoing that I had not really expected. I write in the book about wanting to talk to a psychic, which is something I thought about for not one moment of my life before Harris died.