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The Tragedy of Tom Disch

Matt Schudel

I was out of the office Monday when Michael Dirda, the Post's longtime book critic, sent me an e-mail about the death of Thomas M. Disch. He had known Disch very well and had commissioned him to write dozens of reviews for the Post's Book World over the years.

As I mentioned in my obituary, Disch was a remarkably versatile writer who had fallen on tragically hard times in recent years. I described some of the circumstances that led to his suicide on the 4th of July, including failing health, financial trouble and the death three years of his partner. A fire in Disch's apartment building in Manhattan damaged many of his possessions and books, and a flood at his house in upstate New York destroyed just about everything else. Because the rent-controlled apartment was in his partner's name, Disch could not inherit it and was about to be evicted. As I mentioned in the story, his publisher, Jacob Weisman, said Disch told him he would kill himself if he had to leave the apartment.

Disch hadn't done much writing for several years, but he had a late flowering, and by the end of this year he will have published four new books in a period of 16 months. Weisman said he had just shipped 20 copies of Disch's new novel, "The Word of God," to his address in New York, but he didn't know if Disch had a chance to see them or not. Disch was also working on final revisions of a new collection of stories, set for publication in the fall. Weisman said someone would have to dig though Disch's desk to see if he had completed the revisions on the stories.

We were a day late with our obituary of Disch, but neither the NY Times nor LA Times seemed to find Disch's blog, in which he recorded his thoughts, anxieties and complaints, sometimes in lyrical poetry, sometimes in vulgar prose. If you read back through it, you can see Disch coping with the sad realities of modern life -- the rising price of food, for instance -- but he also exulted in the publication of his new book, "The Word of God." (Disch's publisher, Tachyon Publications, had set up a site in which Disch would reply to "Letters to God.")

But in these sad jottings, the depression and sorrow in Disch's voice are unmistakable. In retrospect you can see that he's skating farther from the safety of the shore, ever closer to the dark abyss. What a tragic tale.

By Matt Schudel |  July 9, 2008; 4:49 PM ET  | Category:  Matt Schudel
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Horribly sad. His "Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of" should be required reading for any serious sci-fi reader. A wonderful critic, reviewer, poet and novelist.

Posted by: David D. Robbins Jr | July 10, 2008 7:21 AM

Sad story, very powerfully described.

Posted by: Jan Richards | July 13, 2008 3:07 PM

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