The critic who parses the artist parsing death must be every inch as intrepid as the artist himself. In The Violet Hour, Katie Roiphe delivers a composite of daring beauty on the deaths of Susan Sontag, Sigmund Freud, John Updike, Dylan Thomas, and Maurice Sendak, a necessary report from 'the deepening shades,' as Yeats has it, rife with her hospitable authority and critical rectitude...Here is a critic in supreme control of her gifts, whose gift to us is the observant vigor that refuses to flinch before the Reaper.
To spend a few hours in the company of a narrator like Kalanithi, such an urgent, pulsing presence on the page, you can hardly believe he is gone ... Like any memoir of terminal illness, it is saturated with the author’s awareness that this is it, his last chance to make himself known to those he loves and those who will only ever experience him on the page ... Kalanithi makes his narrative of development fresh for readers of all backgrounds, in part by recounting discoveries of the philosophical complexities woven into the practice of medicine ... Dr. Lucy Kalanithi, Paul’s widow, has contributed a devastating epilogue to When Breath Becomes Air ... When Breath Becomes Air does what all great literature does: it allows a man whose life belongs to the past to endure.
The intimacy and precision of Ms. Roiphe’s accounts, which move fluidly back and forth in time, are so remarkable that one wonders how she could possibly know so much about these private events, even with the benefit of, say, Mark Edmundson’s book on Freud’s death or Mr. Rieff’s on that of his mother. As if on demand, the author provides an afterword on sourcing that makes clear the years of interviews and reading she poured into this work.