Last year at the Mazama Festival of Books I heard Lidia Yuknavich speak. I ended up reviewing her YA book Dora: A Headcase in my November column and bought her memoir The Chronology of Water at the festival*.
It has sat on my TBR shelf for a year (I'm not proud of this), but with Mazama rolling around again, I was reminded of Lidia and I grabbed it to read the other day.**
I'm almost done with the book; I've reached the chapters where Lidia discusses her current relationship and as I met her very nice husband at the festival, I know that they live happily ever after. I feel like now I can finally let out a sigh of relief. This book -- this book is unbelievable. It is so raw that it hurts to read sometimes, but is so compelling that I have been unable to set it aside. This book is just unbelievable.
Lidia opens with the stillbirth of her daughter and her emotions are purely, completely raw. She holds nothing back, she doesn't hesitate to share every facet of her pain. There is no time for the reader to "meet" this writer, no "I grew up in Small Town and it was small." You are simply there in the midst of the shock and awe that was Lidia's life at that moment. You are there with her and then she never lets you go.
Her childhood was devastating. Her father abused her and her sister. He ruled their house with anger. He ruled every moment that she breathed. Her mother drank herself into oblivion, trying more than once to go all the way forever. This was a kid in peril. She was an athlete (swimmer) who fled on a scholarship as the only way out. She found alcohol and drugs and sex in college. She found them all in a very big way. She descended into a maelstrom that seemed to offer no way out. She wanted that lost space. She tells the reader how she was cruel and thoughtless. She tells how she did not think she was worthy of kindness. She reminds us of a thousand other kids we went to school with. She reminds us of ourselves.
I tried to put the book down five times today. I picked up it again every single time.
Sometimes The Chronology of Water was too intimate for me -- as much as i wrote about my own life in MAP, I couldn't write this much about myself. (It's the sex, I just can't write about sex.) (Granted, I write about aviation so I don't think there's a way to segue into sex there but still.) (Well, there is the Mile High Club but all I'm going to say about that is it is a lot harder to fly an airplane when you're having sex. Think about it.)
Lidia shares it all. She hands her life on a silver platter to readers and she asks for nothing in return. She is clear to point out this is not a book of suffering, not a purging of the soul. (And I hope I have not made it sound that way.) It is the story of a life, that more than once seemed impossible. It is the story of trying to die, of thinking you needed to die, of courting death in all the ways that young and wild and sad and sorry young people do. It's a story that is filled with tears and laughter and stark disbelief. She made it, and in the final chapters (where I am now), she can hardly believe that.
I am reading The Chronology of Water and it is taking my breath away. I've never read anything like it and I wanted you to know.
*You buy a lot of books at festivals. You're not familiar with a writer's work and then you listen to them speak and they are so amazing that you promptly go and buy their book and before you know it you have bought ten books. Really.
**I have just finished up my crunch of books for Booklist and the October column is done and I'm well into November, so I felt safe reading a book off the TBR shelf. I am only now realizing just how much I seem to be over-thinking every aspect of my literary life.
Interview with Lidia here.
Tomorrow I write about airplanes in Alaska. This should not be a surprise for anyone.