In this symphonic work of non-fiction, Heather Christle explores the most human of behaviours: crying. What are tears made of? Why do people cry? And why is this common, crucial act so rarely discussed? Christle unpacks the biological reasons for tears and investigates the influence of crying on art, politics, feminism, race and culture, all while opening up the intimate story of her own tears – from the suicide of her close friend to her family’s history of depression, to her pregnancies, both planned and unplanned. In these pages, we meet a feminist artist who designs a gun that shoots frozen tears.
A moth that takes sustenance from feeding on the tears shed by other animals. And beautifully impractical devices for dealing with grief such as the ‘lachrymatory’, an ancient receptacle into which it was hoped ‘a mourner could let fall her hot tears’. While Christle enchants us with poetic snippets on these subjects, a powerful investigation begins to accrue, examining how the history of tears is tied up with racist violence, with the stigma of mental illness, and with the ways in which glib contemporary images of motherhood fail to reckon with how rich and complicated is actually is.
Brilliant, witty and achingly honest, Christle’s book creates a mosaic of science, history, culture and personal experience to find new ways of understanding life and loss. The Crying Book is a deeply intimate tribute to the fascinating strangeness of tears – and the unexpected resilience of joy. Honest, intelligent, rapturous and surprising, The Crying Book is a poignant, personal tribute to the astonishing strangeness of tears and the startling resilience of joy.