The merry recluse: a life in essays

From Jackie Cantwell
author: Knapp, Caroline
The merry recluse: a life in essays 
This was published posthumously in 2004. The compiler is Sandra Shea, her former editor. The author died of lung cancer in 2002 at the age of 42.  Ms. Knapp was a columnist for the Boston Phoenix, an alternative newspaper, and her essays also appeared in The New York Times, Salon, Siren magazine, and New Woman magazine. She wrote honestly about her struggles and her innermost thoughts and feelings.  She admits to feelings of jealousy, anxiety, grief, loneliness and rage that many of us deny. Her essays about her obsessions and addictions are truly brave. In “A letter to my father”, she states “I’ve come to see drinking as a relationship, as full and rich and sensual and complex as the kind you have with the key people in your life, as the kind I had with you.  I loved drinking, for a long time. I loved it so much I could have died for it, literally.  But you died first and in many ways, I guess that spared me.  On some key level, you see, I couldn’t give up drinking until I’d given up you.”
      “Life without anesthesia” is about how exposed one feels after giving up an addiction.  In her case, she hid behind anorexia and alcoholism.  In conquering a food disorder and alcoholism, she was sometimes flooded with too many emotions, but also experienced an authentic life.  Ms. Knapp was also a fine social critic.  The piece entitled “Teddy Bear II” is about a case where a woman abandoned her father who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.  She argues that we as a nation do a very poor job of caring for our elderly.  She could be funny, too.  How many of us can relate to spending inordinate sums of money to furnish our homes in “Notes on Nesting” I saw myself in “I hate money”: “I hate money.  I hate dealing with it, thinking about it, managing it, planning for it, and accounting for it. On the other hand, I don’t have too many problems spending it, which complicates matters considerably.” ” Bills? What bills? I don’t see any bills. Who’s Bill? Let’s talk about something else.” Some essays might appeal more to women.  In “Barbie does death”, Ms. Knapp states that “The big walk down the aisle  is allegedly something a girl starts dreaming about as soon as she’s old enough to dream”.  She did an informal poll of 15 of her friends, and only two had the wedding fantasy.  The majority fantasized about being rock stars or superheroes.  The title essay “The merry recluse” is about the joys of living alone, and how this flies in the face of societal expectations.  It would have been amazing to see what other issues she would have tackled, if she had lived.