Mark Seinfelt,
Final Drafts: Suicides of World Famous Authors
(Prometheus, 1999)

Mark Seinfelt's Final Drafts is an amazing look at the mind-boggling frequency in which influential writers take their own lives. Examining writers spanning the entire 20th century, Seinfelt takes his readers on some of the most uplifting and depressing trips I have been on in a long time. From Constance F. Woolson's leap from a bedroom window in 1894 to Jerzy Kosinski's asphyxiation in 1991, Seinfelt tells us the final stories of nearly 50 significant writers.

Final Drafts begins with a denser than perhaps is necessary look at suicide amongst writers -- both real and fictional -- as they have been portrayed since the birth of the written word. Paul West's foreword and Seinfelt's own introduction do a very poor job of setting up what turns out to be a fantastic trip amongst the graves of many of the world's greatest writers. Thick and wordy, it's very easy to get discouraged before the first chapter begins, but once it does -- it's well worth the delay.

In each chapter, Seinfelt paints for us a beautiful picture of the lives of our doomed authors, the significance of their work, the temperament of the culture and times, as well as a moving depiction of the author's final acts. Each chapter celebrates the lives of the authors, examining their works, oftentimes pointing out how in many cases the concept of suicide had raised its ugly head in each of their lives. In nearly all cases, Seinfelt shows us the author's greatest moments, and then in a flip of the page, shows us those same authors at their most vulnerable. Each chapter ends on a downer, making it somewhat difficult to move quickly into the next chapter (I need a moment to grieve), but if the reader just peeks ahead, just scanning those first couple of lines, then he or she gets hooked until the next writer dies.

Final Drafts is a great book for anyone that considers themselves a bibliophile, historian, connoisseur of fine literature and/or weirdly obsessed with folks who like to wear plastic sacks over their head when they go to sleep. It's a fine piece of writing Seinfelt has produced, and despite one unhappy ending after another, Final Drafts is inspiring in a strange way. Seinfelt shows us time and again the thin line between the height of one's life and the depth of one's despair; he reminds us that we can never tell from day to day how close we are to life's last page. And that is perhaps a task that many of the writers portrayed in Seinfelt's book would have been quite envious of.

review by
Gregg Winkler

20 March 2010

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new