STARRED REVIEW
September 2017

After the storm

By Anne Gisleson

You might say New Orleans entered an existential crisis after Hurricane Katrina. People across the country weighed in on the city’s future: Should New Orleans rebuild? Or should it accept that life below sea level, on the coast, wasn’t meant to be?

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You might say New Orleans entered an existential crisis after Hurricane Katrina. People across the country weighed in on the city’s future: Should New Orleans rebuild? Or should it accept that life below sea level, on the coast, wasn’t meant to be?

Anne Gisleson and her fellow members of the Existential Crisis Reading Group could relate. In 2012, seven years after the storm, the New Orleanians banded together to read and discuss works that addressed life’s big questions. Together, they would process through the grief and uncertainty that so often accompany different phases of life.

For Gisleson, grief was not only civic but also deeply personal. In the group’s first month, her father died of cancer. Gisleson’s two youngest sisters, twins Rebecca and Rachel, died by suicide about 15 years earlier, 18 months apart. “Losing a sibling, especially in youth, is a particular blow, a lateral loss of shared history and DNA that lacerates your identity,” Gisleson writes. “Your old narrative is shattered. Your new narrative becomes shapeless, full of confusion and pain. Double that.”

The Futilitarians: Our Year of Thinking, Drinking, Grieving, and Reading seamlessly melds together Gisleson’s story, New Orleans’ ongoing recovery and existential discovery. It also serves as something of a guide for readers wrestling with their own struggles, with an appendix of works cited for further exploration.

Through each month’s reading and discussion, Gisleson and her companions engage with big, sometimes bleak ideas. And no matter the grief that drew each of them to the group, they remain focused on a shared goal: living.

“This life is our cross,” one member says during the group’s interpretation of the Stations of the Cross (which they dubbed “The Way of the Crisis”). “Here we are together to engage and discuss, duke it out, support each other in our fight with this cross. Here we have gathered in our own ‘Fight Club.’”

 

This article was originally published in the September 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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The Futilitarians

The Futilitarians

By Anne Gisleson
Little, Brown
ISBN 9780316393904

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