March 29, 2013

Publishers have become quite adept at re-releasing books the masses already have consumed. Just slap on a fancy, limited-edition cover or add a freshly penned prologue, and bam — suddenly it’s a new product designed to generate additional revenue in a struggling industry eager to maximize profits. Every once in a while, though, one of those repackaged works does something unusual: It elevates the quality of the original, turning it into a deeper, more meaningful read.

Such is the case with Amy Fusselman’s “The Pharmacist’s Mate” and “8,” a new collection that combines the two previously issued mini-memoirs into one cohesive exploration of a woman’s attempt to process life’s darker moments — the loss of a parent, struggles with fertility, the lingering cloud of childhood abuse — and to carve out a path toward light.

“The Pharmacist’s Mate” — an account of Fusselman’s attempt to get pregnant while dealing with grief following her father’s death — was first published in 2001, a time when sharing one’s private thoughts was several years away from being an everyday event on social media. At first, in that context, Fusselman’s words may seem like yet another exercise in oversharing. But the writer’s skill — she deftly weaves together her spurts of diary-style insight with passages from her dad’s journals circa World War II — quickly shines through. The loss of a loved one, especially a parent, inevitably forces a person to examine her own mortality, which Fusselman does with wry humor and a sense of wonder: “I am sitting here in my corpse,” she writes at one point, noting that even as she types she is, like all of us, slowly dying. “I am wiggling my corpse fingers like a puppeteer, making a sound like an insect clicking.”

In “8,” Fusselman — a contributor to McSweeney’s Web site, whose book -publishing arm issued this release — manages to turn her experiences with hands-on healing, sleep-training her son, motorcycle instruction and resurgent memories of the pedophile who tried to rape her at age 4 into a meditation on releasing fear and embracing joy. It’s as though “8,” first published in 2007, were always meant to be read this way, right after “The Pharmacist’s Mate.” The first part of this story is about understanding that life is something delicate, not always easy to bring into the world and very difficult to let go of once it leaves. And the second is about what a grown woman does with her life once she’s fully armed with that knowledge.

bookworld@washpost.com

Memoirs
THE PHARMACIST’S MATE and 8

By Amy Fusselman

McSweeney’s. 206 pp. Paperback, $14 

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