The Two Kinds of Decay: A Memoir

Sarah Manguso

The Two Kinds of Decay: A Memoir
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The Two Kinds of Decay: A Memoir

Sarah Manguso

At twenty-one, poet Sarah Manguso developed a neurological disease so rare it didn’t even have a real name. A wildly unpredictable disease that appeared suddenly and tore through her twenties, vanishing and then returning, paralyzing her for weeks at a time, programming her first to expect nothing from life and then, furiously, to expect everything. Manguso looks back at the plight of her own body, laboring under pain and illness, with honesty, biting intelligence, and unsentimental wit. Written in surgically precise prose, with a poet’s eye for brevity.


Sarah Manguso was a 21- year-old college student when a rare blood disease – Chronic idiopathic demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy (CIDP) – first affected her. The disease caused symptoms such as fatigue, paralysis and balance problems.

Manguso initially thought she had a pervasive head cold, but after several hospitalisations and visits to specialists, she began to grasp the seriousness of her condition. This is a beautifully written memoir. It is unusual in that the language is spare and poetic – quite different from the ‘tell all’ memoirs so popular at the moment.

Manguso has previously written two volumes of poetry, and the collection of short stories Hard to Admit and Harder to Escape. The brevity of her memoir is a testament to her ability as a writer. She describes painful and traumatic medical procedures without sentimentality or self pity. She takes the reader on a journey through nine years of hospitals, procedures, professionals and side effects.

Manguso writes toward the end of the book: ‘This is the usual kind of book about illness. Someone gets sick, someone gets well.’ There is nothing ‘usual’ about this memoir. Read it, and it will stay with you.

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