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Suicide

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发表于 5-9-2023 11:10:55 | 显示全部楼层 |阅读模式
Bill Heavey, His Secret Identity. Throughout his life, William maintained a cool anti-macho macho-man persona of a guy most at home risking his life. It was all a disguise. Wall Street Journal, May 9, 2023, at page A13
https://www.wsj.com/articles/thi ... t-identity-58e27d4c
(book review on Daniel Wallace, This Isn't Going to End Well. The true story of a man I thought I knew. Algonquin Books, Apr 11, 2023)

Quote:

"a few centuries ago, society viewed suicide as a criminal act, a murder of the self. The dead person’s body might therefore be hanged, burned or dragged through the street as punishment.

"The surprising thing, the author learns, is not that William killed himself, but that he resisted it for so long. 'His journals [ie, diaries] must be the longest suicide note in the history of the world,' Mr Wallace writes.

"One theory holds that suicide is a case of mistaken identity. That was the case for William. He felt he had to die because he could no longer maintain two selves. * * * As Mr Wallace writes, 'the only person who wouldn't have been able to handle the real William Nealy was the real William Nealy himself.'

Note:
(a) William Nealy was not a celebrity, but a mere brother -in-law of the author, Daniel Wallace.
(b) "Twice within five pages, he resorts to the shopworn metaphor of hair falling 'like a curtain' across a face."

The adjective shopworn is an Americanism (American English word) whose counterpart in British English is shopspoiled.
https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/shopworn
The latter is defined as
"1: worn, faded, tarnished, etc, from being displayed in a shop or store US equivalent: shopworn
2: no longer new or fresh"
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There’s a moment halfway through “This Isn’t Going to End Well: The True Story of a Man I Thought I Knew” when the author, Daniel Wallace, ponders how, a few centuries ago, society viewed suicide as a criminal act, a murder of the self. The dead person’s body might therefore be hanged, burned or dragged through the street as punishment.

Mr. Wallace’s older sister, Holly, had just died, at the age of 56, felled by the arthritis she’d endured since she was 21. It’d been 10 years since the suicide of William, Holly’s husband. William was also Mr. Wallace’s role model growing up, the “ringmaster” of his world, a guy he idolized to the point of wanting to copy “the literal shapes of the letters he made.” Now, recalls Mr. Wallace, “I despised him for breaking my already broken sister, for abandoning her, my family, me.” Overwhelmed by love, betrayal, grief and suffering, Mr. Wallace considered the harsh justice of earlier societies. “Now,” he writes, “I understood why.”

“Unflinching” is a word publishers like to use to describe memoirs. “This Isn’t Going to End Well” deserves the description as Mr. Wallace grapples with the past. It sounds like a heavy read, but it’s almost deceptively easy. Mr. Wallace, a professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the author of six novels, including “Big Fish” (1998), is a disarming writer who seems allergic to any phrase that sounds too witty. Some of the writing, however, is almost prosaic. Twice within five pages, he resorts to the shopworn metaphor of hair falling “like a curtain” across a face. There are also places where the writing is masterly, as when the author nails a particular kind of adolescent reticence: “I struggled to say something more, but the fear of revising later what I said now and being mortified by it was overwhelming, and so I said next to nothing.” I’m not sure how to square these discrepancies in writing.

Mr. Wallace was 12 when he first met William, who was assessing the jump from a rooftop into a swimming pool 25 feet below. The younger boy was spellbound. His sister’s boyfriend was everything he wasn’t, a mix of “James Dean, Albert Camus, Ernest Hemingway, Keith Richards, Satan, G.I. Joe, and of course, Clint Eastwood.” By contrast, young Daniel was “too passive, too lazy, intellectually unremarkable, ill-read, a talented dilettante really.”

The thing is, many other people thought of William the same way. He was a genuine cult hero, a sort of R. Crumb for the outdoor-sports community, if R. Crumb did the things he drew. He kayaked and mapped rivers, climbed mountains, caught copperheads bare-handed and became an EMT by the age of 21. He made books, could seemingly fix anything and charmed just about everyone he met. He satirized himself even as he became a larger-than-life figure who sought out high-risk pursuits. As he once told an interviewer, “you have to get near death to really be alive.” The starstruck Daniel even chose a William-ism for his high-school-yearbook quote: “A mind is a terrible thing to waste, unless you do it right.” (Daniel and Holly’s mother, understandably, was less than pleased.) William was the kind of guy who slept with a police scanner by his bed, “hoping to hear of a tragedy he was singularly qualified to help with.”

It was all a disguise. Mr. Wallace eventually discovers 22 journals that William kept from 1978 until his death in 2001, at the age of 48. The author realizes that reading the journals would be a betrayal of the dead man’s wishes, but he considers “the cost-benefit analysis of posthumous treachery.” He reads them, and finally unmasks his hero.

Mr. Wallace always knew that William’s “greatest power was his ability to project the image of the person he wanted you to think he was.” All through his life, William carefully created and maintained his cool anti-macho macho-man persona of a guy who felt most at home when risking his life. For William, being proficient at things wasn’t optional; he had to be good at them. When he took up inline skating at age 40, “he practiced in private for months, where no one could see him, until he got the moves down.” Even his death was meticulously staged. “If he could have practiced killing himself,” Mr. Wallace believes, “he would have.”

The surprising thing, the author learns, is not that William killed himself, but that he resisted it for so long. “His journals must be the longest suicide note in the history of the world,” Mr. Wallace writes. As early as six years before his death, William wrote “I MUST NOT LET THEM SEE WHO I REALLY AM.” It’s the only sentence in the journals written in big capital letters.

William’s early life was no picnic. He was raised by a “distant, alcoholic father” and an “unhinged, lonely, God-obsessed mother.” As a Boy Scout, he witnessed the deaths of two friends when the dirt cave he had been playing in with them collapsed. Around the same time, he was sexually abused by his own role model, a scoutmaster named A.J. No child should have to experience any of these horrible traumas, nor the shame and inadequacy that come with them. And yet the majority of people who experience them do not take their own lives.

One theory holds that suicide is a case of mistaken identity. That was the case for William. He felt he had to die because he could no longer maintain two selves. In the note to his wife, he wrote that “I’m doing what I’ve got to do to protect you from what I’ve become.” That’s the tragedy, of course. As Mr. Wallace writes, “the only person who wouldn’t have been able to handle the real William Nealy was the real William Nealy himself.”

In the end, Mr. Wallace manages a kind of acceptance. He loves William, the man who taught him about love and art and how to gut a fish. He hates him for the devastation he left behind. He also knows that without William, he would have been a different and lesser man.

Mr. Heavey is a writer in Bethesda, Md.
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