publication date: March 15, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-952897-23-8

Winner of the 2021 Nonfiction/Hybrid Chapbook Contest

Double Negative examines the grammatical logic that two negatives make a positive, that an impossibility can ever be resolved by word rearrangement or by rearrangements of the physical body. The impossibility in Double Negative is the death of an infant, the author’s son Jacob, from an immutable heart defect that medicine, nonetheless, asserts there are options to treat. When is the right time to die, especially if someone is just beginning life? Three decades after her decision regarding Jacob’s fate, Claudia Putnam employs poetry, physics, calculus, scientific research into a hallucinogen, and the structure of the English language to interrogate her experience with grief. She asks whether there might be a difference between not dying and living, exploring personhood, and wondering at how the living do, somehow, manage to orbit so close to the event horizon of a child’s death.

Praise for Double Negative:

“In exquisite prose that sparkles and pulses, Double Negative employs the long-essay form in an attempt to make manifest the nature of grief. Employing existentialism, the philosophy of space and time, theoretical astrophysics, the philosophy of mathematics, literature, studies of death, psychology, dreams, found material, and personal experience, the author leads us deep inside the mortal coil and its intersections of time and love and loss. Essaying at its best, this is a book that grabs you immediately while examining the difficult and impossible task of letting go.”

 —Jenny Boully, 2021 Split/Lip Press Nonfiction/Hybrid Contest judge

“I was not prepared for this lovely, strange, sad, and deeply moving book. Claudia Putnam writes about that supreme calamity, the loss of a child, with tremendous, almost frightening candor. She supplies us with context, both historical (the death of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s beloved son in 1842) and scientific (current research into DMT, the so-called 'spirit molecule' manufactured in our brains). But what grips the reader most is the abbreviated life story of Jake Putnam—the rapid entrance and exit of a human soul. Double Negative is a memorial, and a beautiful one, to a child who, as the author puts it, 'never was not.' 

 —James Marcus, former editor of Harper's Magazine and author of Amazonia

Double Negative is a moving, thought-provoking essay on the long aftermath of loss. Out of inexpressible pain, Claudia Putnam has found expression, in the word's ancient meaning: a squeezing forth, a source of nourishment. In Double Negative, she offers a searching exploration of choices unmade, of lives unlived, of the unknowable and yet intimate space of what she names 'the beforehere, the beforewhen.' 

 —Mairead Small Staid, author of The Traces

“Claudia Putnam gives us the language to ask ourselves what we truly believe about the soul, suffering, and the value of life. As a parent called upon to make an unthinkable decision, she is a feeling and wise guide. Double Negative broke my heart and educated me.   

 —Pamela Erens, author of Middlemarch and the Imperfect Life

Double Negative ushers us into the heart-wrenching grammar of loss, a warring opposition of “worsts” wherein the only positive is possibility:  a condition of suspended (non)being which 'isn’t anyplace, and never was not.'  Following Emerson and the probings of her heart, Claudia Putnam has spun a dazzlingly dark threnody into the labyrinth of love and grief, a journey deeply personal and, ultimately, for us all. 

 —Todd Hearon, author of Strange Land and Crows in Eden

“What a treasure, this memoir. With thoughtful and thought-provoking prose, Claudia Putnam tries to make sense of the senseless—the death of her newborn son, Jacob. Examining the intersection of life and death through many lenses, she considers ideas from the fields of literature and philosophy to physics and medical ethics, and she ponders deeply. Whether you’re primarily a writer or a thinker, her words will inspire you to excel at both. And if you’ve made life-and-death medical decisions for your own newborn, you’ll find comfort in knowing you’re not alone in your search for answers and meaning.  

 —Deborah L. Davis, PhD, author of Stillbirth, Yet Still Born and When Courage Lies in Letting Go

“Heart-wrenching and unflinching, Double Negative explores powerful questions of how we define life's beginning and end, what a mother can know about a child in the womb, and the nature and existence of the soul. In telling the story of her infant son's death, Claudia Putnam brings a fierce intelligence to contemplating the decisions she made as a young mother and her perspective on those decisions now, thirty years later. Double Negative is an unforgettable wrestling with fundamental mysteries, a love song to a lost child that challenges our understanding of life and death.  

 —Katherine Towler, author of The Penny Poet of Portsmouth

““‘Weepest thou?’ Yes, and still": Three decades later, Claudia Putnam's Double Negative is an exquisite, evocative exploration of Self, Grief and the loss of a Soul that was destined to not be. 

 —Jonathan Chu, MD,  Hospice Medical Director (retired)


“Interview: Claudia Putnam, Winner of Split/Lip's Creative Nonfiction Chapbook Contest"
—Lara Lillibridge, Hippocampus Magazine

“Why Would Parents Choose Hospice Care for Their Newborn?"
 —Deborah L. Davis, Psychology Today


“The Chapbook Podcast: Claudia Putnam, Double Negative"