Content warning: This article mentions suicide and struggles with mental illness.
Something that we all have to contend with at some point is the digital footprints our loved ones leave behind. As far as I know, Facebook is the only social media site that acknowledges when someone passes. Next to their name, the word "Remembering appears," as condolences flood their once vibrant profile. On a private note, we also leave cell phones and inboxes behind, which can often serve as a time capsule or a diary of sorts.
There is a morbid joke about always leaving your house wearing clean underwear because you never know what will happen. I often think about what my last Instagram post will be, or my final tweet. For author Blake Butler, the secret tech world his wife Molly left behind after she died by suicide taught him that he never actually knew her. Some of these things made their way into his memoir, and the reaction has caused quite a bit of controversy. Here's what we know.
The controversy surrounding Blake Butler's memoir 'Molly' begins with who Molly was.
According to the New York Post, 39-year-old Molly Brodak, a "prominent writer and university teacher in Atlanta," fatally shot herself. Her suicide note was pinned to the front door of the house she shared with her husband, author Blake Butler. "The way I hate myself is simply so complete that nothing could change it, even as I hoped your love could," read the note (via The Telegraph).
Blake would later discover her body in the "nature area where we used to go walking so I could see the sky and trees and hear the birds one last time," as she wrote.
Molly had a difficult childhood, which she wrote about in her own memoir Bandit. Her father was a bank robber who "married and divorced Molly’s bipolar mother twice," per The Telegraph. At the age of 13, Molly's father went to prison after robbing several banks in order to pay off his numerous crippling gambling debts. All of this fed into her writing and poetry. It's part of the reason why Blake was less shocked by Molly's decision to end her life, but that doesn't mean he understood it.
While searching through Molly's phone and email to find photos he could use for a slideshow at her funeral, Blake made some heartbreaking discoveries. She had been unfaithful for most of their relationship. He also uncovered "evidence of manipulative and abusive behavior," as the The Telegraph explains it.
In the book he wrote, "As I found out the lies she was hiding, it was a bit of a relief. It wasn’t that I had failed her. It was that she had built this world of lies."
The book is Blake's attempt to understand Molly better and, in doing so, shed light on what it looks like to struggle with mental illness. It's impossible to separate the Molly Blake knew from the Molly he later met through her texts and emails. This is why he included them in the book, which has spawned mixed reactions on social media.
Was it OK for Blake Butler to include Molly's indiscretions in his memoir?
Twitter user @sarahroseetter referred to Blake's memoir as "literary revenge porn" and said watching people celebrate it was making her sick to her stomach. In a lengthy thread she went on to say that publishing a person's private messages and emails could set a "dangerous precedent." Sarah also pointed out that Molly's own breadth of work should have been enough to "establish her life story."
Another interesting point Sarah makes is, how much of Molly's private life is fair game for the memoir? Will all of our darkest moments be thrust into the light after we die, simply because we have no say in the matter? Is there a better way Blake could have processed what she did, that didn't involve airing her dirty laundry?
It all comes down to perspective. How much of Molly's actions were byproducts of her mental illness, and isn't that ultimately something that could help the world? Blake believes she suffered from borderline personality disorder, which often involves the same promiscuous behavior Molly engaged in. Could this also be a primer for one of the more misunderstood mental illnesses? I think so. It's not unkind to try and empathize with Molly and by extension Blake. I'm of the mind that accountability matters, even after a person is no longe with us.
If you or someone you know needs help, use SAMHSA Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator to find support for mental health and substance use disorders in your area or call 1-800-662-4357 for 24-hour assistance.