On Matthew Thomas’s We Are Not Ourselves

by Rachel Baker on August 21, 2014

I was given an opportunity to review Matthew Thomas’s We Are Not Ourselves, and I was unable to get through the book, so I decided not to review it. Mostly, maybe, because I knew I was not in the right place to read this book. I always try to give the benefit of the doubt that maybe its me and not the book; and truth be told, I thought the book narrative sounded great when I first requested the galley for review.

But I ran across this post at themillions.com, in partnership with Bloom-site.com, and my first thought was, I need to try this book again. The book came out two days ago and if the discussion below is any indication, its worth reading.

We are a storytelling species, we humans, circled around our archetypal fire, backs to the impenetrable dark and lurking beasts. Before there was fiction as we know it, there were metaphors and myths to help explain where we come from and where we go. Storytelling has always been an antidote to the fear of what we don’t know or understand.

Our litany of fears hasn’t changed much over the last 50,000 years or so. We fear death, illness, pain, infirmity. Now that we live into our 80s and 90s, we can add to that list the fear of losing our faculties.

On the upside, without this innate horror of death and decline there would be very little art, and surely not much literature. It’s human nature to want to defang the beast, but also to poke it — to see what our fears are made of. And people want stories — need them — more than ever, it seems. Popular storytelling programs like The Moth and This American Life, for example, reassure us that we’re in this together. We’re all going to die; let’s go from there.

There is a shadowy twin to that bit of reality: most of us will also find ourselves bearing witness to someone else’s final days — days that in fact often turn out to be weeks, months, years. Parents, partners, relatives, friends: someday you will watch a person you care about suffer. It’s not so much that last shovelful of dirt on the grave that should terrify us, but emptying all those bedpans.

This Could Be Your Story: On Matthew Thomas’s We Are Not Ourselves

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