Still, I Cannot Save You: A Memoir of Sisterhood, Love, and Letting Go by Kelly S. Thompson

I have been waiting to read Still, I Cannot Save You since March 2020, when I met Kelly S. Thompson at the Banff Centre for the Arts. I was there on a retreat to work on my first novel, and she was working on her first draft of this book. While she wasn’t part of my cohort, she would join us at dinner. She was funny and engaging as if she’d known us all forever. One night when I sat down across from her at the table she was quiet, and had obviously been crying. “I just wrote about my sister dying,” she said.

Well, I cried too when I read that part. And that wasn’t even the first – or the last – time I cried while reading this book, at least in part because as I read it someone I loved dearly was dying, and I couldn’t help but relate.

“Thompson is frank about her anger with, her disappointment in,and, despite it all, her love for her sister.”

Still, I Cannot Save You tells the story of Thompson’s relationship with her older sister. Megan was her best friend, her role model, the person against whom she measured herself, until she couldn’t because the sister she loved had disappeared into drug addiction. But even when she was most frustrated with Megan, Thompson couldn’t completely disavow her. “It was only two years ago that she had been caught stealing from the grocery store where she worked and snorting drugs in the storeroom. Afterwards, she had called me, so high she could barely speak, desperate for me to vouch for her in court. Well, this is all very interesting news, Ms. Thompson, the judge had said when I told him about the stealing, the lying, the litany of debts paid for and covered up by our parents. I told myself that by being honest, I was saving her somehow, but also, some part of me wanted Meghan to hurt an iota as much as her self-destruction had hurt me.”

Thompson is frank about her anger with, her disappointment in,and, despite it all, her love for her sister. Each chapter is a vignette of the tentative, incremental steps they made to rebuild their relationship after Megan got clean, trying to regain the easy friendship of their childhood while avoiding the difficult discussions as much as possible. The birth of Megan’s first child, Sam, went a long way to bridge the remaining gap between them, as Thompson fell immediately in love with him. But then after the birth of a sister for Sam Megan was diagnosed with the cancer that would soon kill her.

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As in her first memoir, Girls Need Not Apply, which recounts her time in the military, Thompson’s style is warm, easy to read even when the subject is difficult. On the page she’s much like she is in person – open, friendly, the way a kid from a military family who moved around a lot and needed to make friends in new places would have to be. Her tone has an honesty that draws the reader in, says, “OK, this part is going to be rough but I’ll help you through it, it’ll be OK.” And it is.

“You know, your next book should be about you and me,” Megan tells her sister in the hospice when she is days away from dying. “Christ knows I’ve given you enough material. You’d have to tell it all, though. All the ugliness.”

You know from the start that Megan will die – this is not a happy story. There’s a lot of ugliness, because death isn’t pretty. But it is an excellent read, sad without being maudlin, an honest exploration of the complicated relationship that can exist between imperfect siblings, love that endures in spite of everything.

About the Author

Kelly S. Thompson is a retired military officer who holds an MFA and a Ph.D. in Creative Writing, and has been published in ChatelaineMaclean’s, the Globe and Mail, and more. Her debut memoir, Girls Need Not Apply, was named a Globe and Mail Top 100 Book and was an instant bestseller. She works as a mentor for the University of King’s College MFA in Creative Nonfiction, and lives in Nova Scotia with her military spouse and bull terrier.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ McClelland & Stewart (Feb. 14 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 288 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0771051840
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0771051845

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Cynthia Sharp
Cynthia Sharp
March 13, 2023 18:23

Such an enticing book title and helpful review to prep emotionally for reading it!