Two weeks before her grandfather purchased a gun, Ashley Marie Farmer’s grandmother tripped as she walked across their living room. It was a swift accident on an ordinary day: her chin hit the floor; her cervical spine shattered. She asked, “I’m paralyzed, aren’t I?” Later, thinking to put her out of her misery, he kissed his sleeping wife of sixty-three years and shot her in the chest. He tried to shoot himself too, but the weapon broke apart in his hands. He was immediately arrested. This is the scene we are greeted with at the outset of Farmer’s stunning collection of hybrid essays. One of its greatest features is the variety of voices, a kaleidoscopic approach that corrals in autobiography, audio transcripts, media, legal documents, internet comments, short prose pieces, and more. The result is a moving, deeply satisfying, and eye-opening story. Ashley Marie Farmer is a profound writer who is clearly here to stay, her voice a true gift to our times.
Jobs Peak, 1985 14
Audio Transcript (Recorded January 2, 2014) 16
Lucy, 1975 28
Internet Comments, 2014-2015 29
Transcript: Celebrities 32
Contradiction, 2014 36
American Dream Job 38
Nevada / St. Tropez, 1987 48
Slow Circles 49
Graceland, 1994 60
When the Gun Comes 62
Transcript: Hitchhikers 68
Animal Hours 72
Transcript: Shipyard 81
Body Composition 84
Transcript: Vinyl 94
Minivan, 1994 95
Transcript: Beaches 96
Bill, 1925-2016 98
Seeing the Dead Alive 99
Transcript: Games 108
Transcript: Matrimony 111
The Book I Would’ve Written With No Trouble In It 118
Piano Hour, 1995 116
End of the Line 117
Green Girls 126
Transcript: Riptides 128
Second Person 133
Titles of Essays I Didn’t Write 142
Things You Don’t Have to Be Taught, 1982 143
Transcript: Hazards 144
No One is Waiting 146
Letter to the Public Defender 153
Motion to Dismiss 155
Publication Credits 173
Biographical Note 174
The New York Times, "Mourning Songs for Lives, and Art, That Could Have Been"
Buzzfeed, "17 Short Story And Essay Collections For When You Want To Laugh, Cry, Think, Or Swoon"
"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
"[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
—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
"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.