An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination: A Memoir

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Overview

"This is the happiest story in the world with the saddest ending," writes Elizabeth McCracken in her powerful, inspiring memoir. A prize-winning, successful novelist in her 30s, McCracken was happy to be an itinerant writer and self-proclaimed spinster. But suddenly she fell in love, got married, and two years ago was living in a remote part of France, working on her novel, and waiting for the birth of her first child.
This book is about what happened next. In her ninth month of pregnancy, she learned that her ...
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An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination: A Memoir

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Overview

"This is the happiest story in the world with the saddest ending," writes Elizabeth McCracken in her powerful, inspiring memoir. A prize-winning, successful novelist in her 30s, McCracken was happy to be an itinerant writer and self-proclaimed spinster. But suddenly she fell in love, got married, and two years ago was living in a remote part of France, working on her novel, and waiting for the birth of her first child.
This book is about what happened next. In her ninth month of pregnancy, she learned that her baby boy had died. How do you deal with and recover from this kind of loss? Of course you don't--but you go on. And if you have ever experienced loss or love someone who has, the company of this remarkable book will help you go on.
With humor and warmth and unfailing generosity, McCracken considers the nature of love and grief. She opens her heart and leaves all of ours the richer for it.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Elizabeth McCracken has called this memoir "the happiest story in the world with the saddest ending," but it is far more than that. It is the story of a great love and a numbing loss. When McCracken met British novelist Edward Carey, she was a successful, prizewinning novelist without romantic plans. They swept each other away, got married, moved to France, and prepared for the birth of their first child. Then, in the final month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, the baby died. Crushed yet sustained by their love, the couple wrestled with the sudden vacancy in their lives. Written with the sensitivity and nuance of her novels and short stories, McCracken's An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination soothes an ache even as it expresses it.
Los Angeles Times

"This is an intimate book....It is also a wildly important book."

Boston Globe
"A beautifully written book....It is, on the one hand, an incisive look at grief and the terrible weight of memory. But it's also a love story-a paean to McCracken's husband and both of their children."
Washington Post
"The best memoirs transcend their particulars, offer a fresh look at the bumpy terrain of sorrow, love,
youthful folly, aged folly, resilience, and selfhood. McCracken's is one of those."
Elinor Lipman
A fascinating, word-perfect and bittersweet memoir.
Miami Herald
Lev Grossman
Reading it is a mysteriously enlarging experience. It could pair neatly with Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking: it's hard to imagine two more rigorous, unsentimental guides to enduring the very bottom of the scale of human emotion.
Time
Elinor Lipman - Miami Herald
"A fascinating, word-perfect and bittersweet memoir."
author of Of Men and Their Mothers Mameve Medwed
"What an extraordinary book - joy and sorrow all mixed together on every page. Elizabeth McCracken is amazing."
author of The Lovely Bones and The Almost Moon Alice Sebold
"... Elizabeth McCracken does not howl out her loss. She is devastatingly calm and in this matches measure for measure her own fine writing. By the end of this memoir you will have held a beautiful child in your hands and you will have acknowledged him. This book is an extraordinary gift to us all."
author of Dog Years Mark Doty
"... McCracken writes with such clarity and immediacy ...a writer who rises to the human complexity of grief with all her powers, and all her heart."
Lev Grossman - Time
"Reading it is a mysteriously enlarging experience. It could pair neatly with Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking: it's hard to imagine two more rigorous, unsentimental guides to enduring the very bottom of the scale of human emotion."
PW (Starred Review)
"Stunning...it is a triumph of her will and her writing that she has turned her tragedy into a literary gift."
Los Angeles Times
"This is an intimate book....It is also a wildly important book."

Elinor Lipman
"[A] fascinating, word-perfect and bittersweet memoir."
Miami Herald
Lucinda Rosenfeld
If a book's merit were measured in subway stops accidentally bypassed while being read, the novelist Elizabeth McCracken's affecting memoir about having a stillborn baby would rank high: I found myself three stations past my destination before I realized I'd missed it. No doubt my forgetfulness had something to do with bringing my own maternal history to bear on McCracken's—my first child, too, stopped kicking on her due date—but the author also applies honesty, wisdom and even wit to a painful event.
—The New York Times
Peggy Orenstein
…in her lovely, crystalline meditation on the nature of grief, motherhood, marriage and France—a memoir occasioned by the stillbirth of her first son—she opens with a quip: "Once upon a time, before I knew anything about the subject, a woman told me that I should write a book about the lighter side of losing a child." See, she seems to be saying, this won't be so bad. What's more, she reassures us, a healthy infant lies on her lap as she writes. I hope those signposts are enough to ameliorate readers' aversion to the subject matter, the excuse that the book isn't for them unless they, too, have borne a dead child. After all, you don't have to be an alcoholic to love Caroline Knapp's Drinking: A Love Story. Nor do you have to have lost your jaw to cancer to appreciate Lucy Grealy's Autobiography of a Face. The best memoirs transcend their particulars, offer a fresh look at the bumpy terrain of sorrow, love, youthful folly, aged folly, resilience and selfhood. McCracken's is one of those, and it would be a shame to pass it by because it strikes at one's deepest fears.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

McCracken tells her own story in this touching and often unexpectedly funny memoir about her life before and after losing her first child in the ninth month of pregnancy. As difficult as it must have been to read aloud, McCracken's delivery is courageous and never self-pitying. McCracken is forthright about the tragedy, telling the listener early on that a baby dies in this book, but that another one is born. McCracken's reading is enthralling and deeply moving, as if she is relating this intimate journey directly to each listener individually from a dark, candle-lit room, in an unforgettable performance. A Little, Brown hardcover (reviewed online). (Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Novelist McCracken (Niagara Falls All Over Again, 2001, etc.) relates her struggle to deal with the tragedy of a stillborn son. She begins with a bizarre comment from a fan who suggested, years before the author miscarried, that she ought to write a book "about the lighter side of losing a child." McCracken continually revisits this comment in a memoir as slim and piercing as a stiletto. She gradually reveals the horrors of her experience, peeling back layers of memories to reach the most haunting one: delivering her son two days after she learned that he was dead. In a series of artful vignettes, the author staggers rather than glides through her story. Quick, sometimes painful glimpses delineate her adored husband, her writing career, friends who did the right thing and friends who didn't. McCracken and her English spouse were living in rural France during her first pregnancy. They playfully called the fetus Pudding, "for some complicated, funny-only-to-the-progenitors reason." They visited several doctors, none terribly satisfactory, and so decided to have a midwife deliver. Immediately following the baby's death on April 27, 2006, they burned much of what they'd bought for their son and fled to England, then to America, where she had a teaching position waiting. Just a few months later they learned she was pregnant again, and the couple again bounced from one doctor to another until they found a woman they loved. Their son Gus was born one year and five days after they lost Pudding. Through it all, McCracken struggled to write and to forgive herself. "Closure is bullshit," she declares, but her memoir shows her achieving a sort of peace, though never a mindless tranquility.Notable for its spare, intense prose and the author's self-deprecating frankness about her failures as well as those of her loved ones.
The News & Advance
"McCracken uses the brief length (4 1/2 hours of playing time) of her memoir to plumb deeply into her feelings of guilt and inadequacy....Alternately brittle and defiant, McCracken comes to her own terms with her ill-fated son..."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316027663
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 2/22/2010
  • Pages: 184
  • Sales rank: 254,688
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth McCracken is the author of The Giant's House, which was nominated for the National Book Award; Niagara Falls All Over Again, winner of the PEN/Winship Award; and Here's Your Hat What's Your Hurry. She has received grants and awards from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the American Academy in Berlin.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 37 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 37 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 30, 2009

    Best infant loss book I've ever read

    An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination is the truest representation of living through the loss of a child I have ever read. Since I lost my newborn son 18 months ago, I have read MANY books designed to "help" with the grief following a loss as devastating as losing a baby. None of them touched me or seemed to truly understand the total devastation of losing your infant like this book did. The author does a perfectly eloquent job of addressing all the seemingly innocent things people do or say in their best efforts to be comforting that can send a grieving parent into a spiral of grief. I also appreciated the light at the end of tunnel she provides in the hope of the love of a subsequent child. Even though the hole torn in your heart by the loss of your child always remainsand you will never again look at life as you did before your loss, the author provides the hope that finding a new normal is possible. After the death of my son, many people in my life told me that they "could never understand" what we had been through. And, it's true that unless you have lost a child, you can never really understand(and I hope you never do), but this book does such a perfect job of shedding light on the experience that I would hand it to anyone who wants to try to understand the loss. I recommend this the book to anyone who has ever suffered the loss of a child. I also recommend this book to anyone who loves someone who has lost a child.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Wonderful Book! Great Writer!

    I have been reading Elizabeth McCracken since her first novel, "The Giant's House" came out. That one was great! She had me hooked. I've read "Niagara Falls All Over Again" and while I didn't love it as much it is darn good. Then her collection of short stories "Here's Your Hat, What's Your Hurry?" - which I plan to reread again. So, I was so pleased to find her newest book "An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination." This book is like nothing else I've ever read. A wonderfully touching and insightful personal story of her loss and her hope that made me smile and also cry. I highly recommend this and any other of her books. You won't regret it!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 17, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Lovely

    This engaging and witty memoir is about loosing a child but it is also about how others react in times of loss. I found it to be exactly right on and while I have lost several family members none of those was a child.<BR/>We really find out how emphathic people are when someone dies. It seems to me there are two kinds of emphathy, the one that suggests people can only relate when they have indeed lost and then, there's the other one.<BR/>The truest type of emphathy which involves feeling compassion for a situation regardless if you have experienced it or not. It also seems obvious if ever there was a person who deserves happiness with her child it would be Elizabeth McCracken.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2008

    Beautifully written¿

    ¿This is the happiest story in the world with the saddest ending.¿ Elizabeth McCracken courageously shares her pain at giving birth to a stillborn child and the joy at the birth of a healthy child. Pregnancy was a happy time for the couple. When Pudding was still born, they never expected the sun to shine again. McCracken shares the deep pain. Her words paint a picture of her great grief. She shares the self-doubt and the self-incrimination. With the second pregnancy came anxiety and joy. McCracken¿s story is one many women can relate to. She clearly displays the emotions she faced. Her style is conversational. This is not an easy book to read. McCracken made me feel her pain. The birth of Pudding will leave you sad. However, hope and joy triumph in the end with the birth of Gus. Gus could never replace Pudding, but he has his own place in life.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 30, 2008

    A Heart Breaking Memoir

    Elizabeth McCracken is an award winning, happily single author in her late thirties. But when she meets Edward Carey, they fall in love and get married. Both have wanderlust and it is in France where she disover she is expecting their first child. They spend an idyllic nine months waiting for the birth of 'Pudding', the pet name given to the unborn baby boy. However, tragedy strikes at the eleventh hour. McCracken's son is stillborn. How does one deal with such sorrow? How do you go forward? An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination is the story of that pregnancy and loss, written after birth of her second child, a little more than a year later. 'This is the happiest story in the world with the saddest ending.' I felt like I was privy to McCracken's journal, reading of the joy, anticipation, hurt, anger and grief that she and her husband went through. She is unwavering in her honesty, sharing her most intimate thoughts and emotions. I haven't (yet) read any of her novels, but was captured by the way she uses words to paint vivid descriptions. ' Just then another would-be renter showed up, a yellow-clad lawyer from Boston, with wooden skin and leaden hair and the official dreary insinuating underfed brittle aura of a number 2 pencil'. Whether you are a parent or not, this is a personal and moving memoir that will touch you.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2014

    A smart, surprising, and nuanced

    I was surprised by this book. It was unexpectedly wry, irreverent and very funny in many parts (who would have thought it?). Gut-wrenching and unspeakable loss is dealt with with clarity and truth by a brave and talented author. This book is very special. It is a triumph. I wished there were more and it were longer, though I can see why the author may not have wished for the same. I hope it was cathartic for her to write but my guess is, like Joan Didion's 'The Year of Magical Thinking', it may not have been that simple...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2013

    Great book

    I read this book for an assignment in my Concepts of Death and Dying graduate course. Elizabeth McCracken is a great writer. I wouldn't have typically picked up this type of book but it was well written and interesting.

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  • Posted April 6, 2012

    Having just lost my son to stillbirth at 38 weeks just one month

    Having just lost my son to stillbirth at 38 weeks just one month ago, I found this book to be a window to my soul. I did not want it to be over because I had found someone who totally understood my emotions. She has many poignant observations. Thank you to the author for allowing us to see her raw emotions and also seeing that there are reasons to hope!

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