Books

Life Interrupted

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Life Interrupted
Spalding Gray
(Crown)

Last year actor and monologist Spalding Gray committed suicide, jumping from a Staten Island ferry. In his final work, Life Interrupted, he tells of a car accident during a visit to Ireland that left him disfigured, limping, and nearly catatonically depressed. The monologue, performed only once (during a period in which friends said Gray's depression made him nearly incapable of conversation), presents the events that led to his suicide with his trademark humor and juxtaposition.

"I didn't think there'd be another monologue," Gray begins. "I had settled down into domesticity and a quiet life." Walking through the Irish countryside on the last long walk of his life, Gray sees a young calf clearly suffering, and encourages the farmer to put it out of its misery. That night as he and his wife and friends are returning from dinner, their car is struck from behind. "There was cow medicine everywhere, because the van that hit us was the veterinarian... taking care of the poor sick calf I'd reported."

The monologue hits its surreal high point in Gray's descriptions of chaotic Irish hospitals. An accident lawyer trolls for cases, handing out his misspelled business cards corrected with White Out. Blenders roar as patients' families mix margaritas and American reality TV shows dubbed in Gaelic roar through the hospital rooms. Before his surgery at New York Hospital, "the anesthesiologist... tried to talk me down by asking me if I had any connections to NYU film school for his son." It's a tight and funny monologue made more riveting because in retrospect we know how much was at stake. As always, the transcription of Gray's spoken performance brings the liveliness of conversational language to the page.

The book also includes a short story and eulogies from Gray's funeral, ranging from his stepdaughter and his psychotherapist to Eric Bogosian and Eric Stoltz. Autobiographical writers and performers develop a unique bond with their audience, and as such, Gray's suicide superceded the usual parameters of emotional response to celebrity death. Spalding Gray tried almost desperately to experience everything the world had to offer. That someone so full of life should find himself so exhausted and empty-handed as to kill himself seems somehow doubly tragic.

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