i wanted to create a shelf for this one. i would have called "how-the-young'uns-write." but then i faltered. it seemed dismissive. maybe there is somei wanted to create a shelf for this one. i would have called "how-the-young'uns-write." but then i faltered. it seemed dismissive. maybe there is something slightly MFA-ish and a bit "trendy" about the way this book is written, but, really, this is beautiful, brave, and virtuoso writing, and it should be judged as its own writerly thing.
elyria, the protagonist, is a very young 28 year old. she speaks (writes) in lulling run-ons that are often startling and beautiful, and sometimes so poetic and original they make your heart sing. sometimes they are hilarious and then you laugh. she writes of all the things young'uns with broken hearts, a truncated view of their future, and a disembodied desperation write: time, relationships, parents, siblings, love, not love, the big wide world with its big wide being-lost-in-ness, and death.
(MINOR SPOILER THAT GETS REVEALED SOON ENOUGH) elyria's particular relationship to time, death, and disembodiment is connected to the death of her sister ruby. (END OF SPOILER) since elyria talks mostly from a place of disconnection and inner sense-making rather than story-telling, we don't learn much about her life prior to the present of the narration, but we learn enough to understand that it wasn't pretty. she doesn't tell us a lot about what she was like as a child, but you get a sense she was one of those kids who thought all the time about dying. you know those kids. they are the heroes of the literature you love best. my favorite are mick kelley, frankie addams, holden caulfield, and nomi nickel.* if you can imagine mick, frankie, and holden at 28, you get elyria.
it takes a really good writer to pull off a mick, a frankie, a holden, a nomi. the despair of children is not for the faint of heart.
fact is, some of us carry those children inside us all of our lives. we manage to survive by learning to love them. cuz those children are too formidable, too unbelievably cool to go away. what loss that would be! so we make peace with them and their deathlust the best we can. we become the mommies and daddies who weren't there or weren't enough, and, as snotchcheez says (i'll paraphrase), we take 'em home and give them a warm blanket and a bowl of chowder. for life.
i read this book as an audiobook, the version read by kate lock. she does voices and various other sounds (she coughs, she laughs, she cries, she speai read this book as an audiobook, the version read by kate lock. she does voices and various other sounds (she coughs, she laughs, she cries, she speak as if she had her mouth full, she hesitates, she pleads, she whispers), and the voices are often weird. she also does accents, english regional accents. at first it all seemed strange to me but soon i grew to love the sound of her voice telling me this fantastic story. i loved how she did anna and levin and kitty.
there is a scene in the book in which levin, who could very well be the book’s protagonist if only the book had been named after him, goes with the peasants at his employ to mow the grass fields with a scythe. the laborers are organized in rows and at first levin is a bit awkward; soon though he gets the hang of it and the handling of the scythe becomes a ballet. i am juxtaposing this visual interpretation of a written text to the image i have in my head of an old dude i saw mow the lawn with a scythe some ten years ago in austria, on the mountains. he was mowing a really steep part of his lawn that went from a small holding wall to the end of his property. the operation was miraculously silent except for the swish of the scythe on the grass, and the man and the scythe moved as one, guided by the swinging of the man's hips. i think we should ditch lawn mowers immediately and go back to scythes. i'm not kidding. they are beautiful things and the procedure is probably faster and more effective than that executed with a lawn mower. above all, though, it's a beautiful dance the person does with the grass and the land. the scene in which levin mows the grass with the peasants is the palpable, fragrant, engrossing description of a beautiful group dance, but i concede that it might help to have seen it done in real life, on a sunny but brisk summer day in the austrian alps by an old-timer who'd done it all his life.
when (view spoiler)[levin and kitty marry (hide spoiler)] tolstoy pulls the comic stop full out. i had the lights off, it was late, and i was half asleep, but i woke myself up laughing. there are other scenes like this, but this is the first entirely comic scene you encounter in the course of the novel. tolstoy can do comic, man.
tolstoy can do tenderness and love like you have no idea. the scene in which kitty and levin write to each other entire sentences by using only the first letter of each word and understand each other perfectly is so intense it makes every nerve in your body tingle.
he also can do pain. i think many 19th century authors have done female pain magisterially, but male pain is a bit harder to do. there are so many codices and constraints when it comes to masculinity. vronsky is in pain, karenin is in pain, but these characters' representation follows the prescribed modalities for expression of masculine pain -- restlessness, bitterness, rebelliousness, stubbornness, excess, fickleness, etc. levin's depression, on the other hand, is a lovely masterpiece of representation of fully-felt male inner suffering (levin is an all around wonderful character and the moral, spiritual, and intellectual center of this enormous novel; levin is a man you want to meet and be friends with).
the pain of women is, as i said, a little easier to write about, because women are expected to express pain full throatedly and they are expected to get physically sick from it. anna is different, though, because her pain leads her straight to madness. she doesn't get that typical 19th century female sickness that leads women to languish in sadness to the point of risking their lives (she wishes!). she marches steadily on, doing what she needs to do, bearing up as strongly and composedly as she can, and going crazy. (if you don't know what happens to anna at the end don't click on the spoiler link.) (view spoiler)[this craziness is represented by jealousy but i think jealousy is just a manifestation of an obsession so profound with the evil of the world, it eventually kills her. anna doesn't take to her bed and dies of the mysterious malaise of which 19th century women die. she boldly, madly, desperately takes her own life because the pain is too big and she cannot bear it any longer. (hide spoiler)] anna's madness can be a bit offputting to readers living in the age of therapy, psych meds, positive thinking, and not imposing your pain on others thankyouverymuch. blessed be those who fall into vortexes of pain they understand even less than those who surround them and find their minds simply unhinged by the force of that despair. blessed be they in life and in death.
for the character that gives her name to the novel, i think anna is given too little space. i am not even sure she gets as much space as levin. and while levin's pain is described and detailed in loving depth, i feel we never quite get to the bottom of anna's pain. yes, she loves vronsky and she loves her son. but both those loves felt unconvincing to me. she seemed to me broken from the get go. and what about her preternatural beauty? why is her beauty so central to the novel? is her beauty her curse? i don't know, i don't know.
i must say that i thought this novel would be a downer, but it absolutely isn't. it's joyous and rich and so merciful. tolstoy loves all of his characters and he forgives them, too, so that, for a long while, you can't see a thing wrong with any of them -- till eventually you do, you see their faults and the ways they fail. but you are introduced to their shortcomings gently, slowly, so that you are allowed to see them (the shortcomings) in the full complexity of the characters' negative and positive traits, and you love them a little too, and forgive them. there isn't one badly written character in the whole book. they are all rich and deep and human. listening to this novel for more than a month made me happy and for this i'm so, so grateful. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
i am, doubtless, doing a grave injustice to this book, which will be probably rectified the moment i read reviews and secondary material on it. but ii am, doubtless, doing a grave injustice to this book, which will be probably rectified the moment i read reviews and secondary material on it. but i have a prejudice against alice walker. she seems to me, for an accumulation of reasons none of which sits discreetly in my mind, identifiable, a sloppy writer. say this book. the story is powerful and powerfully told. but then there's a whole lot of anthropology thrown in, and some etymology, and some sort of grand historical theory of patriarchy and the submission of women, and when you scratch the surface a tiny little bit you realize that it's made up. i didn't scratch the whole surface, so it's entirely possible that some of it -- the core of it? -- may not be made up. but when i scratched i found sloppiness or unabashed invention (some invention is openly acknowledged in the postscript) and, well, i am not sure i liked it.
i could be persuaded, but, right now, i don't see why alice walker needs to come up with an invented nomenclature (say) for stuff that truly exists. she doesn't offer any reason and i don't see a reason myself.
so this is what took the book south for me. the first part is beautiful, but then, well, i stopped being engaged, because i felt i was being taken for a ride, and i become unconvinced with everything. what is the relationship between adam and lisette all about? what is its narrative purpose? how do people (reviewers, etc.) know that tashi is treated by carl jung? are the clay figurines for real? do women really leave refugee camps because otherwise they'd be asked to work? what?
nice treatment of post-traumatic mental pain, and powerful, powerful indictment of genital mutilation. i thought i knew about it but i didn't know a thing. genital mutilation must stop. ...more
this is so good. so so so good. i'm going to say, first of all, that the quality of the artwork is amazing. great drawing, sometimes really simple, sothis is so good. so so so good. i'm going to say, first of all, that the quality of the artwork is amazing. great drawing, sometimes really simple, sometimes really complex, with great utilization of über cool graphic devices (notably, a spiral notebook that seems like the real thing, ellen's real notebook, photographed, and may or may not be).
when i first got the book i quickly scanned it and saw that it dealt with bipolar disorder solely in medical terms, i.e. as something the only effective treatment of which would be the right medication cocktail. now, i don't like that. at all. i really believe that mood disorders are a very complex mixture of genes and environment -- i believe that in everything human you can never take the environment out of the equation -- so i was sorry to see that the book kind of sold medication as the only approach to ellen's terrible pain.
the book sat on my shelf for a while and then it sat in a friend's house for another while and now i read it, and it's really not like that. i mean, it is like that, but, also, it isn't. yes, ellen only sees a psychiatrist and the psychiatrist's only overt contribution to her well-being is finding the right meds (which she eventually does). but the book is also very complex about the relation between ellen and karen, the psychiatrist, in that they have regular sessions for 13 years (and counting, i suppose), and in these sessions ellen really finds an anchor, a warmth, a haven of acceptance, love, and help.
also, the whole role of medication is problematized, analyzed, discussed, investigated, studied. this is cool.
ellen definitely comes out in this extraordinary memoir as well-rounded, interesting, and intriguing. this is the perfect companion to Alison Bechdel's Are You My Mother?: bechdel approaches her pain through psychoanalysis, fornay through medication, but there is the same level of complexity, engagement with one's life, and intelligence. seriously, this is brilliant and captivating and it was hard to put it down.
it seems to me increasingly important, as i think about these issues, to understand that there are things that work for someone and things that work for someone else. there's a strong strain in the "survivor" community that is virulently anti-drugs. i think it hinges on some people's disastrous experience with drugs. drugs can have terrible consequences on some bodies, and positive consequences on some other bodies. when you are someone whose life has been ruined by psych drugs, you tend to totalize your experience and proclaim them the devil. but they are not the devil for everyone. there are people whose life has been saved by psych drugs.
the other thing is that ellen's experience of psychiatry is incredibly gentle. her psychiatrist seems absolutely fabulous. this is not a common experience. many psychiatrists (all too many) are dismissive, arrogant, and belittling of their patients. this happens all the time. so if you work on getting better with a psychiatrist who actually listens to what you say, takes in what you want, and honors your experience with respect to what does and does not work for you, medication might be a much better experience than if you deal with a psychiatrist who simple decides what you should take/do/feel/etc.
i had a student once whose psychiatrist regularly mocked her. whenever she had something to say for herself, he'd say that she was being manic and to calm down. this was a kid. a college kid. i told her, why don't you change psychiatrist? but when someone gets into your head and makes you feel that he is god and you are an ant, you keep going back.
anyway, great book. thank you ellen for writing it. i don't know how you guys (you, alison, etc.) do it. this stuff must be harder than hell to put down on paper. so, again, thank you. ...more
this is extraordinary and beautiful. i can see how it may not be everyone's cup of tea -- kind of the same reason why, say, virginia woolf is not everthis is extraordinary and beautiful. i can see how it may not be everyone's cup of tea -- kind of the same reason why, say, virginia woolf is not everyone's cup of tea. there are writers who are utterly and unflinchingly original. this is nothing if not unflinching. it doesn't hold anything back. it says what it has to say and it doesn't mince words.
i hope to be able to write a longer review soon. my one suggestion, if you read it, is to read freud's Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria. your reading of this book will be all the richer and fuller.
P.S. don't listen to chuck palahniuk. you cannot possibly compare this book to a boybook. there is a quantum leap in operation that prevents comparison. this is a girlbook (NOT a girlybook) through and through. also, honestly, i wouldn't know what book to compare it to. it's its own very lovely, very shocking book.
so let me try to say more. lidia yuknavitch has clearly studied the heck out of freud's most famous case study. two of freud's major faults in his treatment of dora are a. silly interpretative moves and b. not believing dora. yuknavitch tackles those faults head on. she leaves all the interpretations intact (all freud's quotes are from the Analysis) and puts them in front of a very sad but extremely spunky, ballsy, and angry 16 year old (am i getting the age right?). the circumstances of ida/dora's life are pretty much the same in the two works, with full update to the 21st century in Y's rendition: super sad mother who's given up on life and daughter, super self-involved father engaged in an unsavory affair, shocking turn of events in which the father basically sells the daughter to his lover's husband in order to keep things quietly humming along.
this whole drama, in freud's analysis and in yuknavitch's rendition, is reproduced on dora's body. dora has problems with her voice, which comes and goes at will. in one great line (in Y's book) dora says, "My silence? It's what kept the house in order." and here let me say that i love the way Y deals with the silencing of girls who know and feel "too much." yes, dora loses her voice (then gets it again, then loses it again, etc.), but she doesn't go down. she fights back by incessantly recording other people's voices with a super duper digital recorder, and by creating films in which the voices of others (stupid voices, ordinary voices, regular city noise, etc.) form the soundtrack. when she does have her voice, dora is the most mouthy, offensive, obscene teenager you've ever met. this has shocked some readers, especially given the fact that the book is written in dora's voice so the offensiveness is not only between quotes but also in the narrative.
but that's how dora speaks. that's how dora gets mad. that's how dora fights the manipulation of adults and freud's relentless attempts at subjugating her sexuality in the name of a sexist view of things in which penises are very powerful and attractive objects and vaginas are very meek and passive objects. dora is not politically correct. not even close. dora is sixteen and hurt and angry.
dora also cuts herself. her cuts are not just injury: they are writing. she writes a new body on her own body. she writes her voice on her body. she doesn't have much to make herself heard, at least to herself, and she uses it to the max.
dora has a wonderful girlfriend whom she adores but with whom she can't make love, or ever make out, because the terrible "transgression" of expressing a woman-on-woman, or simply a female sexuality causes her to pass out.
in the meantime, freud is not a complete asshole. after all, he's the only adult in authority who pays any attention at all (though dora has a little posse of great, queer, alledgedly marginalized friends who are family and salvation and home). so there are some nice moments between dora and sig, alongside some entirely cringe-making moments which you might or might not be able to endure.
as someone who loves psychoanalysis i was happy to see that it wasn't entirely thrown under the bus. freud (the real-life guy) really screwed up with dora, but psychoanalysts (some of them at least) have learned a thing or two between then and now, and they are some of the few mental health professionals who still listen, and pay attention, and hear you.
underneath all of dora's spunk, or alongside it, there's a ton of pain: the pain of abandonment by her parents, the pain of denial of her sexuality, the pain of the utter silencing of her self. i have the impression one or two or a thousand girls and boys might find themselves in dora and say, with her, fuck yeah. cuz kids nowadays, and perhaps always, need all the help they can get.
here's a really excellent word of advice, straight out of dora's mouth, for every adult who finds him or herself in a position of helping kids, especially girl kids, and maybe girl non-kids too: "Um, brainbuster? Next time you work with a female? Ask her which city her body is. Or ocean. Give her poetry books written by women. Like Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton and H.D. and Adrienne Rich and Mary Oliver and Emily Dickinson. Let her draw or pain or sign a self before. You. Say. A. Word."
finally, i want to say that this book's language will bring tear of joy to your eyes. also: it's really hilarious. like, LOL hilarious. and heartbreaking. and still hilarious. ...more