All Down Darkness Wide
By Seán Hewitt
Penguin Press, 2022
Sean Hewitt is author of ‘J. M. Synge: Nature, Politics, Modernism’ and the award- winning poetry collection ‘Tongues of Fire.’ He has just published ‘All Down Darkness Wide’ his harrowing memoir of love, loss and self-discovery. its evocative imagery and raw intimacy, you can almost forget that is nonfiction.
The title is from a poem by Gerald Hopkins that is engraved on the broken stone structures, in a Victorian era cemetery, referring to ghostly lanterns on, “paths leading me on to this navel of the city.” its labyrinths and shadows also a cruising ground and drug enclave.
Hewitt is there to soul search and escape to deal with his grief. And to keep vigil in remembrance of the gay men who have disappeared from violence, intolerance for decades and in Hewitt’s time, the generation of gay men from HIV/AIDS. Hewitt communes with those realities on this hallowed ground to make sense of his life now in the aftermath of his breakup of a five-year relationship with Elias.
Elias, a Swedish student who Sean met by accident when they were both traveling in Columbia. Hewitt had finished his degree at Cambridge and wanted to travel and begin his life as a writer.
First though, Hewitt recounts his affair with Jack, his first love at Cambridge. who he found out had recently died when he tried to get back in touch with him after his breakup with Elias. Sean’s memories of their first dates together so moving in their immediacy and eroticism as he sheds his shyness and caution, sexually and emotionally.
Hewitt’s generation of GLBTQ+ visibility but, as in many countries still navigating homophobia manifest in entrenched biases and socialpolitical norms. He lost touch with Jack after Cambridge and two years later when he found a photo of Jack, and tried to contact him through the internet, he came across his obituary.
With Elias it was an instant emotional attraction. At first, Elias was elusive, but eventually their casual friendship bloomed into a full romance during their journey. They soon were back home, Sean in England starting his career and Elias in Sweden, finishing his degree. They maintained a long-distant affair, visiting each other when possible, and when Hewitt was on a writing fellowship, they stayed at Elias’ parents, then got their own apartment together as Sean’s pursued a writing career.
Over time, their lives began to unravel, as Hewitt became aware of Elias’ pulling away into his own world of depression and despair which drove him to attempt suicide.
The causes of Elias’ depression that brought him to attempts at suicide, Hewett does not attempt to explain, other than wait helplessly, by Elias side, for a month while Elias was treated in a psychiatric hospital. The worry and crisis consuming his life as he tried to finish his professional commitments.
It is an intense, interior memoir, of a young life examined in real time and the paralyzing reality that he couldn’t Elias from killing himself. His feelings of inadequacy and his eventual resentment that he was put in a position of not knowing how bad it was going to get day to day. Elias becoming emotionally distant and self-isolating. They struggled to deal with the issues of Elias’ increasing mental decline.
Then on an otherwise normal appearing morning, Elias was upbeat and headed off to a busy morning at school. A short time later he called Sean in distress, but he wasn’t where he was supposed to be. He was on a cliff ready to jump and didn’t, but he did swallow the hundreds of pills stuffed in his pockets. Hewitt and Elias’ father save him, get him to the hospital and after he is detoxed, for a month long stay in a psychiatric hospital for further treatment, Sean at his side every day.
When he was released and they returned to their apartment, they both realized that, everything between them had changed. They went through the motions, but they both were fearful that he would do it again. Hewitt’s unblinking and account of the desperation they both experienced of trying to make it work Elias continued to spiral into unrelenting depression.
In its unblinking honesty and beautifully crafted prose, this is one of the GLBTQ+ titles of the year. It belongs on the shelf with Paul Monette’s ‘Borrowed Time’ and Michael Cunningham’s ‘The Hours.‘ Even with a few episodes of drunken forays in Liverpool’s cruising grounds, that strike as too massaged, that said, ‘All Down Darkness Wide’ is altogether courageous in its emotional truths.