Francisco Goldman’s “Say Her Name”

I want to praise this book and I don’t know how to go about it. All of the Real, Professional Reviews™ and such have been written. What can I say? “I’m sorry that your lost your young, beautiful, talented wife. But hey – you got a great memoir out of it!”

Some people have argued that the structure of the book leaves something to be desired. It’s too novel-like to be a proper memoir! It’s too memoir-like to be a proper novel! But “Say Her Name” is structured how the grieving process is structured. It has its raw stretches. It has its cool, composed, unblinking stretches. It jumps back and forth like the human mind does when it’s flailing for some sort of anchor. Obviously, it’s a one-sided account – but what’s the point of even pointing that out? It’s the story of a relationship, and one half of that relationship has died.

The story is carved out of a great, solid darkness. It’s dominated by the absence of light, the absence of Aura Estrada, a person who was the author’s source of light. It’s the only book so far that I’ve read while standing up in the Moscow metro during rush hour (yes, I still don’t have an eBook reader – I’m a dinosaur, I’m at peace with this) – backpack nearly trampled underfoot, oblivious to the crush and sway of people, trying not to cry.

At one point, Goldman eviscerates himself for how happy he looks in his wedding pictures. “There was something unguarded, out of control, undignified in my comportment, going among the guests like a romping dog, showing everybody my enormous grin.” Aura was to die in a tragic accident on a Mexican beach less than two years later.

A couple of those wedding pictures are online. Goldman’s grin is indeed enormous. Aura Estrada is stunning. I think this sick sad world is better off for it. Even though she died.

Happiness is in short supply on this planet. Particularly the kind of happiness that is occasionally possible between two people who are in love. And based on the memoir, based on the photographs, I’m positive that most people simply never get to have what Francisco and Aura had. It’s just not possible for them.

I love my husband and my husband loves me back. We’re raising a beautiful son together. But both my husband and I have endured years of damage. So much of our time together revolves around trying to get past that damage that we often have little time for actual love.

I’ve realized recently that what I need to do is to finally just go through with mourning the person I could have been – just so that I can finally let her go. I have struggled with the idea that I could have been better – kinder, gentler, more intelligent, more confident, more loving, more lovable – if only I hadn’t gone through so much hell when I was younger. Now I am learning to accept that yes, there could have been a better version of me out there. She didn’t happen. But I happened and maybe, in the end, that’s alright.

I obviously identified with the terrible sadness of “Say Her Name” – but I also saw a lot of happiness, carefully preserved, like a memento being pressed into your hand.

There’s nothing shameful about happiness – though obviously, you can’t look back on happy times with the same lens after your partner’s life was tragically cut short. In that sense, “Say Her Name” is so emotionally honest, that you almost cannot handle it. But afterward, all you want to do is touch Goldman on the shoulder and say, “Go easy on yourself, soldier. If you can.”

There can never be enough happiness. There can never be enough love. At a certain magnitude, loss never goes away. But as a person who is still learning to love, I thought that “Say Her Name” is a good reminder to keep trying. Because life is short – and one day, all of us run out of chances.

4 thoughts on “Francisco Goldman’s “Say Her Name”

  1. I didn’t read the book but I read excerpts from it in the magazine. My thought were that the story very much reflects the way life is… your lover dies in a freak accident, or because you’re in a place that can’t get ambulance on time, or because you get a useless doctor, and later in the hospital they won’t even let you near her bedside, so she dies completely alone, at night. And you don’t even know. Too curel, to unfair and just too real.
    I knew all this without the book anyway, but sometimes you need to read something like this to wake up from false sense of security.
    I think when you realize this you get over yourself pretty quickly. At least this was in my case…

  2. What’s also horrific is the fact that Aura’s mother got to say goodbye while Aura was still conscious. Francisco was not allowed that chance. I don’t want to criticize Juanita – she lost her only child – but Francisco was the HUSBAND that Aura had CHOSEN FOR HERSELF. They both deserved better than that.

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