The Still Point of the Turning World

The Still Point of the Turning World

Additional Formats
  • Ebook
  • ISBN 9781101605851
  • 272 Pages
  • Penguin Books
  • Adult


Like all mothers, Emily Rapp had ambitious plans for her first and only child, Ronan.  He would be smart, loyal, physically fearless, and level-headed, but fun.  He would be good at crossword puzzles like his father.  He would be an avid skier like his mother.  Rapp would speak to him in foreign languages and give him the best education.

But all of these plans changed when Ronan was diagnosed at nine months old with Tay-Sachs disease, a rare and always-fatal degenerative disorder.  Ronan was not expected to live beyond the age of three; he would be permanently stalled at a developmental level of six months.  Rapp and her husband were forced to re-evaluate everything they thought they knew about parenting.  They would have to learn to live with their child in the moment; to find happiness in the midst of sorrow; to parent without a future.

The Still Point of the Turning World is the story of a mother’s journey through grief and beyond it.  Rapp’s response to her son’s diagnosis was a belief that she needed to “make my world big”—to make sense of her family’s situation through art, literature, philosophy, theology and myth.  Drawing on a broad range of thinkers and writers, from C.S. Lewis to Sylvia Plath, Hegel to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Rapp learns what wisdom there is to be gained from parenting a terminally ill child.  In luminous, exquisitely moving prose she re-examines our most fundamental assumptions about what it means to be a good parent, to be a success, and to live a meaningful life.


“A brilliant study of the wages of mortal love.”
—Sarah Manguso, New York Times Book Review

The Still Point of the Turning World is about the smallest things and the biggest things, the ugliest things and the most beautiful things, the darkest things and the brightest things, but most of all it’s about one very important thing: the way a woman loves a boy who will soon die. Emily Rapp didn’t want to tell us this story. She had to. That necessity is evident in every word of this intelligent, ferocious, grace-filled, gritty, astonishing starlight of a book.” 
—Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild

“Rapp writes with . . .radiant honesty and intelligence, pulling you close, making you care. She searches for solace in literature, religion and friends, joining forces with other “dragon mothers” and find­ing the strength to protect and honor Ronan while preparing to let him go. . . . Rapp fights to redefine the meaning of parenting—and of life itself. Living in the moment is sornething we’re told to aim for; she does it, finding profound joy in the pure expression of love.”
Helen Rogan, People (4 star review)

“It’s hard to find words that do justice to Emily Rapp’s The Still Point of the Turning World. It’s one of those rare books that you want to press into people’s hands and simply say, ‘You must read this. You will thank me.’ At every turn, Rapp avoids the maudlin and the expected to get at very deep truths, sometimes painful and sometimes liberating and sometimes both. She looks for wisdom and comfort to a wide range of sources ranging from C.S. Lewis to Marilynne Robinson to Buddhist teaching. And she looks to her son. This is one family’s story of living while facing death, but also an astonishingly generous work about recognizing the pain and grace that exist all around us.”
—Will Schwalbe, New York Times bestselling author of The End of Your Life Book Club

Rapp has an emotional accessibility reminiscent of Wild author Cheryl Strayed; her unique experiences have a touch of the universal. She comes across as open, midthought. In her book, she wrestles with the ideas of luck and sentimentality and life and love and often circles back, unresolved. Despite being a former divinity student, she bypasses religion for literature, seeking meaning in poetry, myth and, especially, Frankenstein and its author, Mary Shelley… Her kind of parent? The dragon mother: powerful, sometimes terrifying, full of fire and magic.”
—Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times, “Faces to Watch in 2013″

“A graduate of Harvard Divinity School, Rapp combines an essayist’s willingness to lay herself bare on the page, a theologian’s search to plumb the mysteries of life and a poet’s precision.  The result is stunning . . . Although her subject is extremely sad, her book isn’t depressing, because depression is a state of stasis, and Rapp actively investigates her grief, making something meaningful out of it.”
—Malena Waltrous, San Francisco Chronicle

A beautiful, searing exploration of the landscape of grief and a profound meditation on the meaning of life.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Ronan’s ‘death sentence’ was for Rapp and her husband, Rick, living in Santa Fe, a time of grief, reckoning, and learning how to live, and her elegant, restrained work flows with reflections and excerpts from writers and poets like Mary Shelley, Pablo Neruda, and Sylvia Plath, as well as supporters who helped her during the difficult unraveling of her son’s condition. Writing about Ronan allowed her to claim the sorrow and truly look at her son the way he was… Unflinching and unsentimental, Rapp’s work lends a useful, compassionate, healing message for suffering parents and caregivers.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

This memoir of extraordinary tenderness and grace in the face of unimaginable loss is searingly beautiful in the way of a sacred text.  Emily Rapp certainly didn’t sign on to be our guide into the deepest crevasses of the human heart, but that is what she has become.  Of course this is an undeniably sad book, but don’t let that stop you.  It is also one of the most powerfully alive books I have ever read.  Every page shouts: This is what it is to love!  To risk!  To lose! To bear witness!  An unforgettable moral and artistic triumph.” 
—Dani Shapiro, author of Devotion and Slow Motion

Although Rapp avoids sentimentality, her radiant book is steeped in deep feelings. . . . Readers nursing terminal patients of any age can find encouragement in Rapp’s savored “still point.” Her determination to envelop her son in love, protect him from as much suffering as possible, and then let him go is a protocol as applicable to an Alzheimer’s patient as to a sick child.”
—Heller McAlpin, Los Angeles Times

Rapp is a deep and gifted storyteller. . . . [The Still Point of the Turning World] offers us the precise combination of vividness and distance necessary to think through the unthinkable.”
—Katie Roiphe, Slate

“Rapp has written a beautiful and passionate elegy for her son, a book that offers deep wisdom for any reader. . . . There are no tidy lessons here, but instead a dark, beautiful sky full of possible constellations of meaning, threads of resonance on the subjects of life, death, healing, illness, friendship, family, grief, and love.
—Buzzy Jackson, Boston Globe

“A writer writes; a mother mothers. When those passionate vocations merge in crisis, more than a memoir emerges. The Still Point of the Turning World is a philosophical inquiry into the nature of faith, character, love, and dying.  This book is Rapp’s, and Ronan’s, enduring gift of selves for the rest of us.”
—Antonya Nelson, author of Nothing Right and Some Fun

Written with remarkable precision and restraint, Emily Rapp’s The Still Point of the Turning World takes us to the depths of grief, where almost against our will, heartbreak becomes beautiful.”
—Roger Rosenblatt, author of Making Toast and Kayak Morning

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