The New York Times, "Mourning Songs for Lives, and Art, That Could Have Been"
Buzzfeed, "17 Books from Independent Publishers You Need to Read this Summer"
Buzzfeed, "17 Short Story And Essay Collections For When You Want To Laugh, Cry, Think, Or Swoon"
2022 International Rubery Book Awards Nonfiction Winner
"Lyrical and poignant."
—Roxane Gay on "Mercy"
"Remembering an act of violence born not out of malice, but love, Farmer’s narrative is melancholic, but still full of hope."
—"Mourning Songs for Lives, and Art, That Could Have Been," by Kat Chow, The New York Times
"What follows are essays about gun culture, violence, and what it means to die in America. But Farmer also takes a hard look at what it means to live; there are delightful passages of transcripts made from taped interviews of her grandparents reminiscing. There are also Farmer’s own questions about teaching and writing while stringing together adjunct jobs in order to barely make rent, complicated untanglings of family histories and mental health, and examinations of relationships, from the platonic to the romantic. Dear Damage, an open letter to demons of the past, still gives plenty of space for connection and joy."
—"17 Books from Independent Publishers You Need to Read this Summer" by Wendy J. Fox, Buzzfeed
"[G]ripping from the start...a truly unique and fascinating book."
—"17 Short Story And Essay Collections For When You Want To Laugh, Cry, Think, Or Swoon," Buzzfeed
"Poet Farmer (The Women) parses her complicated family history to create a heart-wrenching portrait of love, family, loss, and aging in this astounding collection.....In 'Mercy,' she writes, 'while I’m skeptical of mining beauty from pain... or landing on a diamond takeaway or even claiming good can come from it, I’ve learned that time-freezing anguish makes for micro-moments of unexpected reverence.' Farmer exceeds her intention; the moments she depicts teem with power. This potent work introduces Farmer as a writer to watch."
—Publishers Weekly starred review
"A slim...but striking book."
"The short, connected, associative essays in Dear Damage are by turns ecstatic, stark, poetic, deeply and necessarily sorrowful, and also reportorial....Farmer is a curator of the stories of others, stories that are also her selves: writer, family member, and chorus in a Greek tragedy too. This book announces itself as a collection of essays, but it is also autobiography, commentary, legal transcripts, revised memories, and dream scenarios, all told with the vulnerability and intimacy of a writer a few lucky readers already know as a powerful voice talking back to 'Damage.'"
—Andrew Tonkovich, Los Angeles Review of Books
"[A] deft hand at compressed narratives filled to emotional brims."
—"Beauty and Lightness: Gina Nutt and Ashley Marie Farmer in Conversation," The Millions
"Farmer’s straightforward prose...appears effortless."
—Harvard Review Online
—Ryan Ridge, Southwest Review
"Open it up, Farmer seems to implore us, set the needle to play, and listen. Just listen."
—Barrett Bowlin, Salamander Magazine
"Dear Damage caused me to repeatedly lose my breath, caught as I was between my desire to see what would happen next, and how it was going to happen, as well as wanting to know more about the ideas, decisions and characters—especially their lives before this—that graced the pages before me."
—Ben Tanzer, LitReactor Magazine
"[A] searing yet tender work of interrogation.”
—The Swell and the Fury
"Farmer shows she can grasp a readership with rare authorial honesty."
"In Dear Damage, Ashley Marie Farmer has given us a window into her life experience through compelling storytelling, lovely language, and welcome grace....Farmer says, in the book, 'I’m trying to build a house.' Brava, I say, for showing us all the rooms."
—Good River Review
"Her [essays] are vivid and full of carefully observed details, and darkness is the essential backdrop to light."
—"In Dear Damage, Tragedy Foregrounds the Strength of Ashley Farmer's Family" by Geoff Wichert, 15 bytes
"Dear Damage plumbs devastating loss, family, grief, gun violence, and love—all with glittering tenderness. Ashley Marie Farmer’s mind is vast and complex, and her compassion stuns as she makes 'a quiet study of pain' while acknowledging that 'maybe pain has made a study of me.' These essays leave me aching and awestruck."
—Gina Nutt, author of Night Rooms
"Dear Damage is many things at once: an expertly written collection of literary essays, the riveting story of an unfathomable act of violence, a work of breathtaking empathy, a sublime and generous account of love and grief, and the account of an enormously talented writer's self-creation. Together, they assemble into a book that is somehow all of that and more: a marvel, a reckoning, possibly a miracle."
—Justin St. Germain, author of Son of a Gun
“Prose in the hands of a poet, Dear Damage is 'radiant and unabridged,' a story of love and violence set within the incoherence of American values. Rarely are readers gifted with the work of a mind equally incisive as it is elegant. Ashley Marie Farmer’s important Dear Damage speaks to all times from within the salience of our own particular troubled American now.”
—Michelle Latiolais, author of She and Widow
"Whip smart and empathetic...all of it rendered beautifully, the poet’s ear and the proser’s eye working together to encapsulate and expound."
—Christopher Kennedy, author of Clues From the Animal Kingdom
“Reminiscent of Aimee Bender, Sheila Heti, and Aurelie Sheehan.”
“The conviction of Lydia Davis...and a linguistic inventiveness equal to that of Diane Williams.”
—The Masters Review
"Surreal verve and melancholy tenderness."
—Gina Nutt, author of Night Room
"A highly original work of art."
"How do we read a book like Beside Myself? Like a gift. We study it from all sides, consider how it feels in our hands, read, consider, then read it again. "
A writer reckons with her grandmother’s “mercy killing” in this set of loosely connected essays.
In 2014, Farmer’s family became a national news story. Her grandmother, a quadriplegic in severe pain after a fall, was shot and killed by her husband in a Carson City, Nevada, hospital to end her suffering. (He intended to kill himself as well, but the gun “broke apart in his hands.”) In her debut nonfiction book, Farmer discusses some of the public responses to the incident and ensuing debates over assisted suicide. An appendix reproduces a formal letter she wrote in support of her grandfather and the state’s motion to dismiss charges against him. But most of the book represents the author’s interior effort to assess her grandparents’ relationship (she reproduces snippets of interviews with them), the manifestations of grief that followed the incident, and the author’s own struggles to write about it. She’s attuned to how much America is steeped in gun idioms: “It’s strange how guns suddenly appear in ordinary phrases: Under fire. Stick to your guns. Oh, shoot.” Yet her sympathy for her grandfather isn’t absolute. “Regardless of my grandfather’s intention, she writes, “I consider the hearts stopped at the sound of the single shot, the psyches jarred, the people who thought, if even for a second, that they should run or take cover, who thought, This is it.” Farmer weaves these considerations, somewhat awkwardly, into essays exploring her own feelings about family: a failed first marriage, a second marriage so defined by hand-to-mouth living (to make ends meet, she stitched together multiple adjunct teaching gigs) that children seem unlikely. In that regard, Farmer’s book feels like two solid but incomplete essay collections. However, at her best, the author exposes how trauma and family shape our lives no matter how we try to resist.
A slim and uneven but striking book, sensitive to grief and tested relationships.