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Despite her parents’ struggles with addiction, Lilly Dancyger always thought of her childhood as a happy one. But what happens when a journalist interrogates her own rosy memories to reveal the instability around the edges? A memoir from the editor of Burn It Down: Women Writing About Anger, Negative Space explores Dancyger’s own anger, grief, and artistic inheritance as she sets out to illuminate the darkness that was hidden from her.
Dancyger's father, Joe Schactman, was part of the iconic 1980s East Village art scene. He created provocative sculptures out of found materials, and brought his young daughter into his gritty, iconoclastic world. She idolized him—despite the escalating heroin addiction that sometimes overshadowed his creative passion. When Schactman died suddenly, just as Dancyger was entering adolescence, she went into her own self-destructive spiral, raging against the world that had taken him away. But as an adult, Dancyger began to question the mythology she'd created about her father—the brilliant artist, struck down in his prime—using his paintings, sculptures, and prints as a guide to piece together a truer story.

Praise for Negative Space

"A lovely and heartbreaking book." —Carmen Maria Machado, author of In the Dream House
"Negative Space is a beautiful restoration act." —Lidia Yuknavitch, author of The Chronology of Water
"Candid, thrilling, wickedly smart, Negative Space is one of the greatest memoirs of this, or any, time." —T Kira Madden, author of Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls
"This book is a true accomplishment, one that often left me stunned and disturbed in all the right ways, all the ways brilliant art does." —Alex Marzano-Lesnevich, author of The Fact of a Body
"This book is so many things: a daughter's heartrending tribute, a love story riddled by addiction, a mystery whose solution lies at the intersection of art and memory. Together, they form a chorus that I could not turn away from, and didn't wish to." —Melissa Febos, author of Whip Smart and Abandon Me
"Dancyger creates an unflinching account of her artist father’s snakebitten life and his struggles with addiction – peeling back the layers around an artistic practice that seems weighted with vulnerability." —Cynthia Carr, author of Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz
"Negative Space is a brilliant, moving, unique, thought-provoking meditation on the artistic life, fathers and daughters, and the struggle to live life at the highest pitch in each generation." —Mark Greif, author of Against Everything
"In Negative Space, Dancyger achieves that beautiful, often elusive, balance of writing about addiction with equal parts examination and empathy." —Erin Khar, author of Strung Out
“The beauty of Negative Space [...] is that the author's retelling pushes against the boundaries of what we understand as a biography — and turns the narrative into a something like a whodunit, a supernatural thriller in which a journalist interrogates a ghost, a story in which art speaks about the past eloquently, and a biography of how a writer came to be.” —Gabino Iglesias, NPR
"Negative Space is a significant debut. Using her exceptional journalistic skills, Dancyger recounts the indelible life of Joe Schactman, her father, an artist and a heroin addict, who died when she was 12. Dancyger’s dexterous usage of time functions as a critical lens, panning in, out, and around, keeping memory fluid." —Yvonne Conza, LA Review of Books
"Every line of this wise memoir hits hard. But despite all the darkness in Negative Space, it reads like a testament to the power of family love." —Apple Books

“Dancyger crafts a striking composition out of found objects, a poignant portrait of the identities we construct out of grief.”—Oprah Daily

A "fierce, intimate work" —Kristin Iversen Refinery29
“With empathy and gorgeous prose, Dancyger excavates, explores, and attempts to understand her father—a brilliant artist and addict—as he was: flawed, complicated, and so very, very loved.” —Carolyn Quimby, The Millions

“Each sentence is a finely wrought work of art unto itself.” —Jane Ratcliffe, Electric Literature

“Dancyger’s eye for detail and devoted pursuit of grim truths make this an enthralling read. By shining light into the dark corners of her family’s past, she creates a brilliant and gut wrenching memoir.” —Adrienne Urbanski, BUST Magazine
"Imagination is Dancyger’s inheritance, and we feel electrified and empowered by association." —Lena Crown, Phoebe Journal
"The strongest portions of Negative Space explore Dancyger’s experience as the child of addicts. She largely parented herself, and when she builds a more stable adulthood than the one modeled by her parents, it’s a hard-won victory. Other children of addicts who experienced difficult transitions into adulthood will find much to relate to here." —Jessica Wakeman, BookPage
"Perfect for fans of Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle" —Bustle
“A penetrating, heartfelt story, one which plunges into the rippling depths of grief and remembrance only to change us for the better.” —Jacquelyn Marie Gallo, The Brooklyn Rail
“This striking memoir does what an outstanding memoir should: It not only encourages its readers to explore their pasts from new perspectives, but models the bravery needed to gaze behind the curtain of memory and face whatever realities you may find there.” —Karla Strand, Ms. Magazine
“A searing portrait of grief and anger that you won’t be able to put down.” —Adam Vitcavage, Debutiful

"[Negative Space] rejects traditional expectations of closure, instead confidently examining the dual nature of parent-child relationships, creative legacy, and artistic creation as an act of communion." —Claudia McCarron, Ploughshares
“Lilly Dancyger is an extraordinary writer, and her bravely introspective memoir will blow you away.” —HelloGiggles


Coming Home to Somewhere Unfamiliar

I was exuberant with the freedom I’d found, the friends I’d made, the neighborhood where I felt at home for the first time since the blurry memories of early childhood, but just under the surface was a depression that felt like panic. I felt everything, all at once. So I drank and got high so it made sense for me to laugh hysterically until tears ran down my cheeks and then sob until I was red in the face and choking. That turning point between laughter and tears was where I lived all the time, and inebriation was a convenient excuse to let it out.

Misadventures in J-School: When Grad School is the Wrong Thing

I never thought of it as compensating, I just thought of myself as someone who’d gotten her shit together after an untethered adolescence spent running around the East Village, getting drunk in Tompkins Square Park instead of learning algebra. But then I got accepted to Columbia, the stamp of institutional approval I didn’t realize I’d needed so badly, and I imagined the sweet vindication of becoming a high school drop-out with an Ivy League master’s degree.