Imagine being a Harvard golden boy – smart, well read, funny – and suddenly having a freak accident in which you’re blinded in your right eye. Goodbye, golden boy status (sort of). That’s what happened to Howard Axelrod, a bright young Harvard student in his mid twenties. In his memoir, The Point of Vanishing: A Memoir of Two Years in Solitude, basically nothing happens, plot-wise, beyond his living in a very remote house in the Vermont woods.
This interrupted Axelrod’s successful white collar trajectory. His family was dubious about the whole idea, not surprisingly, but he needed time to re-adjust to his new disability, after all. After putting up handwritten signs in obscure places, Axelrod secures this hidden living arrangement; his time spent there is one of reflection and solitude. He rarely sees people, takes long walks, writes, and thinks. I’ve never read anyone write so beautifully or poetically about silence and its role in identity and selfhood. If I had to use one word to describe this book, it’d be “silence.” Silence both heals and provokes change, but it’s change that others cannot see, ironically.
This was my favorite book of 2015. It struck me repeatedly while reading this that Axelrod has a unique writing voice and doesn’t give himself enough credit for the guts and humility that he clearly has. I can’t wait to read more by him.