Emotions run high when people discuss Zoe Fitzgerald Carter’s recently released memoir Imperfect Endings. The book chronicles her mother’s choice to end her life when faced with the prospect of dying slowly from Parkinson’s disease (as well as other serious health issues) and her desire to have all three of her daughters at her side when the end came. Of course this choice deeply affected Zoe and her family and this is portrayed eloquently and often humorously in this courageous story. In a recent interview on NPR’s “On Point,” callers were desperate to get through to tell the author their own stories of struggle with a loved one’s — or their own — battle with terminal illness and to discuss the moral implications of assisted suicide. The host of the show, Tom Ashbrook, relayed his own memories of how his mother died of Parkinson’s. It seems almost everyone who tuned in could relate to the honesty and emotional struggles of Ms. Carter.
Though the book deals with a controversial and important subject which makes it, at times, a difficult read, relief comes in the form of the writing: it is just gorgeous. The language with which Carter weaves this difficult story of life, death and family bonds is as complex as the tale itself: elegant but accessible, somewhat reserved but still open-hearted. The relationships among the sisters and the different ways they each deal with the situation are honestly rendered in a manner which any reader who has experienced family conflict (and let’s face it, who hasn’t?) will totally relate.
I have to admit, after reading this incredible memoir I struggled with my own feelings towards Zoe’s mother. Halfway though, I felt infuriated with her, certain she was pushing this event just to manipulate her daughters and grasp their attention. This reaction was probably based on my relationship with my own mother, but that’s the power of this book: I dare you not to personally relate on some level or another. By the end though, I was blown away by the strength of her conviction and began to understand her desire to avoid imprisonment in her own disease-ridden body.
To give you some background on the author before we talk with her, Zoe FitzGerald Carter is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and has written for numerous publications including New York magazine, The New York Observer, Premiere, and other national magazines. Imperfect Endings won first place in the 2008 Pacific Northwest Writer's Association literary contest and was a finalist at The San Francisco Writer's Conference. The memoir was also picked by Barnes & Noble as one of its 2010 Discover Great New Writers series. An excerpt of the book appeared in the March issue of O Magazine.