“A decades-long examination of the hierarchy of grief and the nature of personal obsession.”
Certain and Impossible Events
By Candace Jane Opper
CERTAIN AND IMPOSSIBLE EVENTS orbits the death of a fourteen-year-old boy who shot and killed himself a week after Kurt Cobain’s suicide had become international news. Haunted by the hazy circumstances around her classmate’s death, Candace Jane Opper takes a kaleidoscopic lens to the cultural history of suicide in America, unearthing an invisible network and revealing the ways that no individual suicide—well-known or hardly documented—exists in a vacuum. Fusing personal narrative with history and science, Opper interrogates the ways suicide is handed down to us—from literature to YouTube, from middle school health class to sociological study, from the immutability of objects to the fluidity of oral history. In this candid and unsentimental epistolary essay, Opper invites us into her decades-long obsession with a boy she barely knew, creating space for herself and her readers to embrace a radical kind of unforgetting.
Selected by Cheryl Strayed as the winner of the Kore Press Memoir Prize.
Featured on NPR’s 2021 Books We Love
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Certain and Impossible Events is unlike anything I’ve ever read. It’s a powerfully original exploration of the many meanings of suicide and a beautifully written memoir of a particular kind of loss. I was impressed with the intellectual curiosity of this book, and also with its emotional rigor. With astonishing insight and candor, the author drew me into the endlessly unfolding mystery of her decades-long obsession with her teenage crush, a boy she scarcely knew, who killed himself at 14. Certain and Impossible Events is both a clear-eyed tour de force about suicide and an intimate and ultimately poignant portrait of one woman coming to grips with an experience that inexplicably shaped her. Perhaps most of all, I loved the quality of the prose. I was in this talented writer’s thrall from page one.
—Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
Certain and Impossible Events is a stunning gutpunch of a memoir for the heart and for the head. In laser-sharp, near-cinematic prose, Candace Opper both remembers and discovers the childhood friend lost to suicide, a decades-long examination of the hierarchy of grief and the nature of personal obsession. I kept putting the book down to remind myself to breathe. I kept picking it up to find out what happened next. I’ll keep picking it up for what it shows me about this beautiful mess of a world and how I can better walk through it.
—Megan Stielstra, The Wrong Way to Save Your Life
Certain and Impossible Events is the shoebox full of memories that you don’t know what to do with, lovingly and unsparingly curated into a museum of infatuation, grief, obsession, and hard-won wisdom; it’s the love letter to your teenage self that you would write if you could. A memoirist who seeks the harshest truths about both her own life and the American mind, Opper draws you into her one history in a way that will re-examine yours.
—Sarah Marshall, Host of You're Wrong About and You Are Good
“Beautiful, painful, and honest”...”There is no closure in Opper’s book, but there is language—and isn’t that a lot?—to describe the complexity and hierarchies of grief, the stigmatization of suicide, and the emotional components of intellectual obsession.” —BOMB Magazine
In this profoundly moving meditation on the suicide of a classmate, Opper dives into the raw wound of a decades-old obsession, seeking not healing or closure but a deeper understanding of the changeling nature of the wound itself—cultural and personal, specific and universal, public and private. Unsentimental, lucid, harrowing, but ultimately restorative, Certain and Impossible Events left me breathless.
—Maryse Meijer, author of Heartbreaker and Northwood
“In pushing back against the hierarchies of grief that prescribe whose pain deserves to be aired, Opper illuminates the ripple effects of suicide—’a bizarre kind of loss, full of answers and empty of ways to access them’—and how the violence of a life ended early can leave even casual acquaintances reeling.”—Bookforum
Opper carries the reader through the evolution of her grief, from awkward teenage obsession through to womanhood, where she comes to know almost every answer but the one she seeks. Certain and Impossible Events also comes with a side of 90s nostalgia and a fascinating exploration of suicide in pop culture. If you’ve ever felt the loss of a friend or acquaintance to suicide, but never felt there was a proper place for your grief, this one will resonate.
—Dese’Rae L. Stage, Founder of Live Through This