The Bright Hour is a radiant book. Nina Riggs brings her fine sensibility and craft as a poet to her heart-wrenching yet funny memoir about facing death as a young wife and the mother of two little boys. Structuring her book around anecdotes that are, more often than not, full of irony and joy in the everyday chaos of family life, she selects only the details that illuminate, bringing the reader closer to that bright hour of clarity about what really matters in life.
Cancer is endemic in Nina’s world. Her family history is full of it. In the short time of her own illness, Nina’s mother also dies from cancer, and a close friend confronts the exact same diagnosis as Nina.
But Riggs’ world is also full of poetry and philosophy. Without any intellectual pretension, she looks to Montaigne for inspiration and searches her heritage as Ralph Waldo Emerson’s great-great-great granddaughter for meaning, taking her perfect title from one of his works.
The last chapters are from just this past January, so this book feels especially immediate with its political and cultural references. I’d say it’s even more powerful and personal than Paul Kalanithi’s beautiful bestseller, When Breath Becomes Air (another perfect title). If you’re looking for excellent books on death and dying, don’t miss Being Mortal by Atul Gawande either.