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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

My Death

Lisa Tuttle

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To purchase My Death

Title: My Death
Author: Lisa Tuttle
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004
Length: 108 pages
Availability: My Death - US
My Death - UK
My Death - Canada
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • With an Introduction by Amy Gentry

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Our Assessment:

A- : very well done, and neatly turned

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Mail . 23/11/2023 Stephanie Cross
The NY Times Book Rev. . 12/10/2023 Lauren Elkin

  From the Reviews:
  • "The title of this slippery, endlessly unpackable novella, also the name of the disguised-but-graphic nude painting at its heart, is ambiguous. Is it a chilling prediction, or does it point to a wished-for ending, the consummation of a life ?" - Stephanie Cross, Daily Mail

  • "My Death deftly navigates between conventional storytelling and the uncanny feeling that things are perhaps other than they appear. The theme of the alternate feminist narrative is actually integrated into the form of the novel itself, in a final impressive loop-de-loop that I did not see coming and that has left me scratching my head. (...) In the end, My Death is not about death at all, but about life after catastrophe: how art revives us, and how writers live on in their readers." - Lauren Elkin, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The narrator of My Death is an author, someone who has always felt driven to write and has been doing so professionally for thirty years but now finds herself adrift after the death of her husband almost a year and a half earlier. When her agent phones saying he will be in the neighborhood -- she lives in Scotland -- they arrange to meet in Edinburgh, and when the author gets to town early she goes to visit the National Gallery. There she comes across Circe, a portrait of a young Helen Elizabeth Ralston painted, in a "total departure in style and approach", in the late 1920s by a W.E.Logan -- an image that the author is not only familiar with but about which she notes: "For ten formative years this picture had been part of my life", a poster-print of it hanging first in her dorm room and then several successive apartments.
       Ralston had gone on to become a writer -- including of: "the cult classic In Troy, that amazing, poetic cry of a book, which throughout my twenties had practically been my Bible". Logan had been Ralston's mentor, and they had an affair; shortly after he completed the painting she had fallen ("or leaped") from a window, badly injuring herself, while soon later Logan went blind (becoming a successful writer then as well).
       When the author meets her agent they discuss her writing, and she says she thinks she'll next only be able to manage a work of nonfiction -- and, at the spur of the moment, she realizes that what she wants to do is write a biography of Ralston. Her agent is supportive -- noting also that Ralston is probably still alive (neither of them can recall seeing an obituary, though she would be in her late nineties). He also knows of a Ralston painting that a friend of his owns, which they then promptly go to see.
       The painting, which the author first finds an "uninspired daub", looks simply like an image of an island -- until she looks more closely and sees that there's a lot more to it than that. It is a kind of intimate self-portrait, the author realizes -- "One immediate furious thought rose in my mind: How could she expose herself like that ?" She is even given the painting then: the agent's friend had long meant to give it to the artist, and the author could deliver it.
       The little painting is called 'My Death', and the island it (also) depicts the scene of a fateful journey Ralston and Logan took. It's the final push the author needs, leaving her truly hooked on the idea of writing Ralston's biography. Ralston proves indeed to still be alive -- and even eager to meet the author -- and the author quickly goes to see her. Ralston proves to be a fascinating character, her life-story offering rich material perfect for a biography.
       The author is somewhat surprised (but very pleased) to learn that Ralston is familiar with her own work -- indeed, that she's read all the author's books. Slowly, creepily, she does, however, have to begin to wonder whether Ralston isn't a bit too interested in -- and knowledgeable about -- her own life ..... It disconcerts her enough to back off for a while, from writing and from being in touch with Ralston -- but only for a while.
       My Death is narrated in a straightforward, almost plain way, and begins with two basic stories. The first is of the widowed writer who struggles to start writing again (and worries about what her future will look like if she can't: "The prospect of embarking, in my fifties, on a new, low-paid career as a cleaner or a carer was to grim to contemplate"). The second is that of Ralston (and her relationship with Logan) -- about which the author initially only knows the roughest outlines.
       The author is familiar with some of Ralston's work -- especially that one novel --, and she also seeks out more. In Troy had been tremendously significant for the young author:

     I recalled how I'd been pierced, at the age of nineteen, by the insights and language of In Troy. It felt at times like I was reading my own story, only written so much better than I could ever hope to match. It was such an amazingly personal book, I felt it had been written for me alone.
       She soon learns a great deal more of Ralston's (and Logan's) stories, and their art -- and, of course, there's that very revealing painting .....
       If partially foreshadowed, the novel's final turn goes considerably further than readers might have expected. Tuttle is best known as a writer of science fiction, fantasy, and horror and there is an element of these here, but it's in its almost plain, everyday grounding that the story is then ultimately so effective. The author discovers more and more about Ralston and Logan's relationship, and the simple sensationalism of this -- beginning with the almost everyday story of an art teacher and student having an affair -- is well-used by Tuttle as almost a misdirect, as both author and reader are led to believe that the story's real secrets are to be found there. And they are, too -- but Tuttle doesn't leave it at that.
       Reminiscent of many of Jonathan Carroll's books -- he does similar things, in a similar way --, My Death is a very satisfying -- and pleasingly disturbing -- novella.

- M.A.Orthofer, 5 November 2023

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My Death: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author Lisa Tuttle was born in 1952.

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© 2023 the complete review

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