An eloquent and haunting exploration of suicide in which one of Canada's most gifted writers attempts to understand why his brother took his own life. Which leads him to another powerful question: Why are boomers killing themselves at a far greater rate than the Silent Generation before them or the generations that have followed?
In the spring of 2006, Don Gillmor travelled to Whitehorse to reconstruct the last days of his brother, David, whose truck and cowboy hat were found at the edge of the Yukon River just outside of town the previous December. David's family, his second wife, and his friends had different theories about his disappearance. Some thought David had run away; some thought he'd met with foul play; but most believed that David, a talented musician who at the age of 48 was about to give up the night life for a day job, had intentionally walked into the water. Just as Don was about to paddle the river looking for traces, David's body was found, six months after he'd gone into the river. And Don's canoe trip turned into an act of remembrance and mourning.
At least David could now be laid to rest. But there was no rest for his survivors. As his brother writes, "When people die of suicide, one of the things they leave behind is suicide itself. It becomes a country. At first I was a visitor, but eventually I became a citizen." In this tender, probing, surprising work, Don Gillmor brings back news from that country for all of us who wonder why people kill themselves. And why, for the first time, it's not the teenaged or the elderly who have the highest suicide rate, but the middle aged. Especially men.
DON GILLMOR is one of Canada's most accomplished writers. He is the author of the bestselling, award-winning two-volume Canada: A People's History, and his journalism on suicide has earned him both a National Newspaper Award and a National Magazine Award. Gillmor's other books include the novels Kanata, Mount Pleasant and Long Change, all of which were published to critical acclaim, and nine books for children, two of which were nominated for the Governor General's Literary Award. He lives in Toronto with his wife and two children.
FINALIST FOR THE 2019 GOVERNOR GENERAL'S LITERARY AWARD IN NON-FICTION
“To The River: Losing My Brother is haunting, beautifully written and rightly hesitant about any certainties regarding an act as ultimately unknowable in social terms as it is in individual decisions.” —Brian Bethune, Maclean’s
“Gillmor took on the thankless, though compelling, existential task of understanding another man’s life, happiness and grief. And what makes it worth leaving.” —The Globe and Mail
“[T]he book frequently shifts, seamlessly, from the brothers’ stories to a wider perspective. As he explores the cultural, sociological and psychological questions surrounding suicide, Gillmor circles ever closer to an answer to the central question of those left behind: why? On the way, he draws back the curtain on a subject too little discussed. . . . To the River is a family story, focused on a brother's love and loss. It is a keen-edged, frank book, beautiful and unflinching, painful but important.” —The Peterborough Examiner
“As he explores the cultural, sociological and psychological questions surrounding suicide, Gillmor circles ever closer to an answer to the central question of those left behind: Why? On the way, he draws back the curtain on a subject too little discussed. . . . At its heart, though, To the River is a family story, focused on a brother’s love and loss. It is a keen-edged, frank book, beautiful and unflinching, painful and important.” —Robert J. Wiersema, author of Seven Crow Stories, Toronto Star
“Don Gillmor offers us far more than a portrait of his lost brother—he invites us to contemplate our own hidden interiors. To the River is a clear-eyed, unsentimental journey to the edge of an oblivion so many of us quietly skirt. Deeply personal, broadly researched and beautifully, beautifully written.” —Daemon Fairless, author of Mad Blood Stirring
“A beautiful, shattering book. Wise and honest, and exquisitely written. Insight for anyone who has known the gnawing sorrow or the endless accusation of a senseless loss. It will also make you laugh out loud. Go figure.” —Linden MacIntyre, Scotiabank Giller–prize winning author of The Bishop’s Man