Tucker Lieberman recommends Candace Jane Opper’s Certain and Impossible Events (Kore Press, 2021)

You may find yourself seized by a recurring thought. All of us return to the same waters now and then. Depending on your personality type, though, what has hooked you may be not only a preferred topic but something more narrow: an event that replays in your mind, a person who has infiltrated your heart. You may call it a “special interest” or even a “fixation” or “obsession.”

For author Candace Jane Opper, it was the suicide of a fourteen-year-old classmate. She was thirteen at the time, and she had a crush on him from afar, though she was uncertain if he ever knew her name. Her fascination with the boy’s absence—he was there, and then one day he wasn’t—changed the trajectory of her life. Suicide became a research interest for her, mostly in the service of trying to unpack the mystery of this particular teenager’s death. The person she addresses as “you” throughout the book is the persona of the dead boy, a force that grew more powerful as he evolved into a personal mythology for her even as her memories faded. Opper's narrative of her own research into the boy's life, Certain and Impossible Events, won the Kore Press Memoir Award. Childhood innocence and grief are slippery to explain, and she has done so expertly and evocatively.

Why do some people’s emotions work this way? Sometimes we wait and hope for a revelation of whatever it is we don’t yet understand. “I did not believe,” Opper addresses the boy, “you wanted us to move on; I believed you were trying to tell us something, and if we moved on, that message would never arrive.” It might be interesting to unpack our “motives” for dwelling on losses and mysteries, Opper says, but more valuable yet is the “momentum” with which they charge our lives. Eventually, we become what we pursue. People ask today what she'd want to say to the fourteen-year-old boy if she had the chance to travel back to that era, and she proposes an alternate question: what she'd want to say to her own thirteen-year-old self.

Tucker Lieberman is the author of Ten Past Noon, the product of his fixation on a 20th-century unpublished writer who died by suicide. He also wrote the nonfiction books Painting Dragons and Bad Fire and the bilingual poetry book Enkidu is Dead and Not Dead. His essays and short stories have been included in various anthologies. He lives in Bogotá, Colombia.