by Claudia Putnam
publication date: March 15, 2022
Winner of the 2021 Nonfiction/Hybrid Chapbook Contest, selected by Jenny Boully
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…this is a book that grabs you immediately while examining the difficult and impossible task of letting go."
—Jenny Boully, author of Betwixt-and-Between: Essays on the Writing Life
"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."
—James Marcus, former editor of Harper's Magazine and author of Amazonia
"A moving, thought-provoking essay on the long aftermath of loss, 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 Stead, 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."
—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. 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
"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…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
"Putnam’s clear and muscular prose echoes the lyrical concision of her poetry.
Claudia Putnam lives in Western Colorado, where she works part-time as a craniosacral therapist. Her prose can be found in Confrontation, phoebe, Sunspot Lit, bosque magazine, Cimarron Review, and elsewhere. Her debut poetry collection, The Land of Stone and River, recently appeared from Moon City Press. She has received several residency awards, including the year-long Bennett Fellowship from Phillips Exeter Academy. She is the mother of two children. Her surviving son, Julian, is a chef in Seattle.