Stories about sudden terrible incidents which overturned a life
October 11, 2010 3:27 AM   Subscribe

Looking for books written by someone who lived a normal stable life and due to a tragic unexpected event beyond their control, their life was turned upside down.

Ideally the victim has no enduring physical signs of the incident. Maybe they were sitting on a train and saw a shooting. Maybe they were in a car crash or plane crash. Maybe someone they loved was kidnapped or killed. I don't have a morbid fascination here - I am just wondering how such people cope with such extreme change. It needn't be a heroic story of overcoming the odds either. Maybe it has a tragic ending.

posted by vizsla to Grab Bag (22 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

How about Richard Powers' The Echo Maker?
posted by carsonb at 4:12 AM on October 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

I just finished reading Chris Cleave's "The Other Hand" which broadly fits your criteria (except there's a relatively minor "enduring physical sign" - a lost finger). It's pretty powerful and quite thought-provoking.

Oh - I believe it's called "Little Bee" in the US. God, it infuriates me when books are given different titles in America.
posted by Decani at 4:25 AM on October 11, 2010

I think you should check out Gilead. It's maybe a little different than a lot of the other suggestions in that the drastic change isn't unambiguously tragic, but the narrator's life is definitely "turned upside down".

It's also gorgeous.
posted by valkyryn at 5:36 AM on October 11, 2010

American Gods by Neil Gaiman, in a big way. Neverwhere, also.
posted by wayland at 5:49 AM on October 11, 2010

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. It's about a Japanese business man who lives a more or less average life until, well, a whole bunch of really weird shit happens.
posted by Rinku at 5:55 AM on October 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

The Rooms of Heaven by Mary Allen may fill your bill.
posted by BostonTerrier at 6:12 AM on October 11, 2010

Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of a Self by Susan Brison is about surviving a brutal rape and murder attempt. It's heavy reading and not a happy story at all, but it's very good.
posted by bewilderbeast at 8:17 AM on October 11, 2010

Cry Of The Damaged Man by Tony Moore was written by a doctor, detailing his recovery after a major traffic accident, emphasis in his role reversal of doctor to patient.

Touching The Void by Joe Simpson - couple of mates go up a mountain, get stuck in a blizzard, one breaks his leg, falls down a crevasse, the other returns alone to camp thinking his buddy is dead. The buddy manages to crawl out, and down the mountain, down a glacier, and survives.

Between a Rock & a Hard Place by Aron Ralston - Guy goes hiking, gets his arm trapped by a massive boulder, he amputates his own arm with a multitool to get out.

I have MS & have a amassed a small library of books written by people about their experiences with MS and how it has effected their lives. A couple that spring to mind are:
Me & My Shadow by Carol Mackie Young flight attendant writes about her MS
Fall Down Laughing: How Squiggy Caught Multiple Sclerosis and Didn't Tell Nobody by David Lander - Squiggy from Laverne & Shirley's autobiography

Michael J Fox has written a few books that discuss his Parkinson's.

Oliver Sacks
, neurologist has written many books that include case studies of his patients with neurological disorders/brain injuries, including one about an injury of his own.
posted by goshling at 8:30 AM on October 11, 2010

"Don't worry, He won't get far on foot" by John Callahan.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:45 AM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote quite a few books about her life after the kidnapping and death of her son. Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead is a particularly good one touching on the concepts of coping with grief and trauma.
posted by teamnap at 8:58 AM on October 11, 2010

Seconding Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. While her only daughter was in the ICU with a mysterious life-threatening illness, Didion's husband of forty years died at the dinner table of a sudden heart attack. The book documents the experience.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:04 AM on October 11, 2010

My number one recommendation would be Janet Frame's autobiographies, from which the movie An Angel at My Table was made. Frame was hospitalized through much of her twenties for schizophrenia although (as I recall) she came to believe she actually suffered from depression. Before that, she lost two of her sisters in weirdly similar accidents not too far apart. The biographies are wonderful, and the movie isn't bad either.

I haven't yet read Darrin Strauss's book, Half a Life. Strauss accidentally killed a high school classmate. Curtis Sittenfeld's American Wife is a fictionalized treatment of Laura Bush's life, including a fatal car accident. There are so many things that can turn your life upside down, in so many different ways. Surviving something like that must be one of the worst. I had a friend who accidentally killed someone and... what to say? So I am interested to read the Strauss book.
posted by BibiRose at 10:28 AM on October 11, 2010

In Paul Auster's Invisible, the main character is your typical young college student--a writer--until he bears witness (and is a bit of a party) to an extremely violent act. His attempts to deal with this experience and his guilt leads him down a disturbing and depraved path.
posted by litnerd at 10:40 AM on October 11, 2010

And now I realize that it seems you're looking for nonfiction--so maybe not for you--but still a good example, if fictitious.
posted by litnerd at 10:41 AM on October 11, 2010

Eugenia Ginzburg's Journey Into the Whirlwind details her sudden fall from a comfortable life as a Communist Party member in the USSR in the 1930s, including her arrest and deportation to Siberia. It's incredibly fascinating to read about her life in the gulag, how she developed survival skills, and how it all turns out.

Important note (and sort of a spoiler): the book was written and published in the 60s, and she was still living in the USSR. The Party had evolved, of course, but you still have to read her treatment of Communism as a system with a serious grain of salt. I read this as part of a Russian history class, and my professor pointed this out but also said that her depiction of daily life, the justice system, etc. was very accurate.
posted by charmcityblues at 11:08 AM on October 11, 2010

Vicki Forman's This Lovely Life is about picking up the pieces and recreating a life for her family after her twins Ellie and Evan were born super-prematurely (Ellie died at 4 days; Even, who struggled with serious disabilities, died just shy of his 8th birthday). Vicki is my brother-in-law's sister. I have a little more to say about the book and their experience here.
posted by scody at 11:13 AM on October 11, 2010

One of Douglas Hofstadter's books, Le Ton Beau de Marot, includes the story of his wife's sudden death of a brain tumour. It's pretty harrowing.
posted by Logophiliac at 11:19 AM on October 11, 2010

The Diary of Anne Frank.
posted by mynameisluka at 11:25 AM on October 11, 2010

I thought Stolen Lives was pretty good, though not necessarily a "normal" life by any means...

...Not books, but you might enjoy the Guardian's Experience series, I particularly liked the Sole Survivors one.
posted by clanger at 6:36 PM on October 11, 2010

Lucky is a memoir detailing author Alice Sebold's experience of rape and its aftermath. (Earlier, a girl had been murdered in the same tunnel Sebold was raped in, and the police said Sebold should think of herself as "lucky" because she survived her attack. Hence the title.)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 7:01 PM on October 11, 2010

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