Grief Is for People, Sloane Crosley

‘Grief Is for People’ Is a Loving Model for Sudden Loss

Grief Is for People is a loving portrait of a dear friend and an offering of shared wisdom for the bereaved rooted in emotional chaos and its subsequent clarity.

Grief Is for People
Sloane Crosley
MCD Books
February 2024

Regret is common in any form of bereavement, especially in suicide bereavement. Sloane Crosley is not alone in the cycle of thoughts that lead her to wonder over and over again if she could have done something, anything, to prevent the death of her beloved friend, Russell Perreault. Crosley begins Grief is for People from this mixed position of self-condemnation as a suicide survivor and self-assurance as both a skilled writer and an intimate friend to the man she is remembering. 

Crosley creates an upbeat, lighthearted, and somewhat self-indulgent persona who is well-liked by the people she surrounds herself with. Still, her desire to create this particular self initially makes it difficult for the reader to have compassion for her. The reader’s compassion is imperative for the narrator to successfully convey her grief and tell her story.

Crosley experiences her difficulty with compassion as a reader in her recollection of one of Perreault’s favorite books, Jean Stein’s 1982 oral biography of Edie Sedgwick, Edie: “Everyone is such a pretty pancake, pounded into shape by good genes and inherited wealth, it can be hard to empathize with the weight of their legacy.”

Grief Is for People‘s title arises from an observation made early in the book, as Crosley grapples with the loss of jewelry stolen from her apartment: “Grief is for people, not things,” she notes. “Everyone on the planet seems to share this understanding. Almost everyone. People like Russell, and people like me now, we don’t know where sadness belongs.”

Crosley sets aside the shared understanding that many objects are extensions of our identities, and other objects become cherished belongings because they represent relationships with significant people in our lives. Crosley explicitly writes that solving the mystery of the burglary runs alongside understanding Perreault’s death. She wonders if she is portraying their friendship as more significant than it was so that she can sustain its value while also questioning whether there is a valid reason to find shared meaning in these two losses. These moments of introspection create a space for compassion as Crosley exposes the vulnerability of her grief.

Crosley includes personal and professional snapshots in her narrative, as she worked with Perreault for nine years at Vintage Books, where he directed publicity for hundreds of authors and their books. Joan Didion was among those authors, and Crosley notes that a line from The Year of Magical Thinking, Didion’s 2005 book about grappling with the deaths of both her husband and her daughter, comes to mind on the day she learns of Perreault’s death. Didion’s frank, observational style is clearly an influence on Grief Is for People, and it serves the memoir well.

Crosley observes her grief and measures it as she observes her friendship with Perreault and considers her love and loss. She also considers her subject position, wanting to cast off the idea of being considered a suicide survivor, claiming she is, at best, “nonsurvivor-adjacent”. Yet the exquisite detail of her time spent with Perreault clearly tells another story. In the country house Perreault shared with his husband in Connecticut, Crosley had a guest room set aside for her. She and other Perreault’s publicity team members would spend luxurious weekends there, a peaceful getaway from New York City. Grief Is for People overflows with stories of Perreault’s in-office antics, the joy he created at Vintage, and the deep friendship he forged with Crosley, even after she left the company to write on her own.

In addition to creating a loving portrait of Perreault, Crosley shares wisdom for the bereaved, rooted in her emotional chaos and its subsequent clarity. She comments on the pile of books on grief that were given to her that she did not intend to read but somehow found she had read them all. This is despite the issues that troubled her: that much of the writing about grief is not necessarily useful for a reader who suffers a sudden, shocking death.

In her sudden grief, she writes, “The planning of funerals is a maudlin luxury.” She details the difficulties and joys of planning a memorial for Perreault and the shock of an ordinary moment on the subway “when you think you have a handle on it” and then “a crack opens up where the crazy gets in.” Crosley’s willingness to share the tender details of her journey through bereavement is a generous offering that models the myriad ways that grief is, indeed ,for people.

RATING 8 / 10