by Elizabeth Spencer

Sloane Crosley’s first memoir, Grief Is For People, recounts two traumatic events that occurred one month apart in 2019. First, her apartment was burglarized and all her jewelry stolen on June 27th. On July 27th, her best friend Russell died by suicide. The book moves back and forth in time as Crosley tries to make meaning of these “thirty days, down to the hour … bookended by personal loss.” I loved Crosley’s visceral writing and her honesty about the messiness of the grieving process. This book will be relatable and comforting to anyone who has experienced loss and grief, especially if the death was sudden or premature.

Grief Is For People is structured in five parts based on the five stages of grief. Crosley told NPR that Part V. is called “Afterward” instead of “Acceptance” because “it’s about being OK with never letting go.” She noted that the hardest part of grieving can be the pressure one feels to “get over it.” This frankness about what grieving looks and feels like, along with Crosley’s refusal to tie her story up in a neat bow, are what I most appreciated about Grief Is For People. I nodded in recognition when Crosley said that “encouraging [the newly stricken] to remember the good times” is “like feeding steak to a baby.” The book is full of gems like this.

Sloane Crosley

Although it’s a sad book, Crosley also injects the wit and humor she’s known for from her previous books. Part One begins with a play on Tolstoy’s famous Anna Karenina opening: “All burglaries are alike, but every burglary is uninsured in its own way.” Later on in the book, Crosley’s quest to reclaim at least some of her stolen jewelry becomes a funny caper story within the larger story.

While there are plenty of grief books about lost parents, spouses, and even siblings and children, the lost friend narrative can be harder to find on bookstore shelves. While reading Grief Is For People, I thought of Ann Patchett’s Truth and Beauty. Both authors write with love and longing of their lost friends, chronicling the good times as well as the dark edges. Reading these memoirs will make you think about the nature of friendship, how we can be close to someone and and still not know everything.

Russell was more than a friend—he entered Crosley’s life as a boss and mentor, hiring her at age 25 to work with him in the publicity department at Vintage Books as the Associate Director of Publicity to his Executive Director. Crosley describes their immediate connection both as friends and as colleagues: “Find one of us, pull the string, you’d find the other.” The Work Friend can be a special bond, forged as it often is in the shared fire of toil and strife. Not all work friendships survive one person leaving, but this one does. Crosley leaves Viking after publishing her first book, but she and Russell stay close.

The way Crosley’s book moves around in time reminded me of The Year of Magical Thinking, perhaps the most well-known of them all. Didion was one of Russell’s authors and Crosley references Didion’s “sense that this was finally working out” when Julia Child dies shortly after Didion’s husband. Now they can finally have dinner together. Crosley finds herself with a similar fantasy—that Russell can find the jewelry that was stolen from her.

Loss and grief are part of our human inheritance. What is the purpose of the grief memoir—for both its author and its readers? In writing about it, the author can make sense of what happened and keep their lost loved one alive—an impulse we all share in the wake of death. And the reader can find solace in knowing they’re not alone, in finding new ways to describe how they’re feeling. Ever honest, Crosley told The New York Times that she “didn’t find the book particularly cathartic to write, but … it seems like it’s cathartic for people to read.”

So often, we blame ourselves for a traumatic event, wondering what we could have done differently. Crosley captures this feeling in writing about the burglary: “This is all my fault for not moving homes or cities, for not taking certain jobs or marrying certain men, for looking backward all the time when I should be looking forward.” She has a knack for details and the way we latch on to the ordinary to try to make sense of the extraordinary. For example, Russell posted a picture of wildflowers to Instagram on the day he died: “It’s tempting to connect the photograph with what happened later that evening. That way the subsequent horror is not so out of the blue. That way the extraordinary has an on-ramp. It’s tempting to reach through the screen, place a palm against the barn wall, and whisper: Don’t. But it’s just a picture he took before he left the house.”

The title Grief Is For People comes from Crosley’s quest to find a grief support group in the wake of the burglary: “There are no bereavement groups for stuff … Grief is for people, not things.” This memoir is one of my favorite reads so far this year. It’s comforting, relatable, and funny. It’s also the first book by Crosley that I’ve read, so now I plan to go back to the beginning and check out her first essay collection.