I just finished Season of the Body a couple of days ago. This book is both beautiful and infuriating. In some of her essays, Brenda Miller has perfectI just finished Season of the Body a couple of days ago. This book is both beautiful and infuriating. In some of her essays, Brenda Miller has perfect pitch, but in others she can’t keep a tune to save her life—or her book. The lesser essays are infuriating, maddening, frustrating: why can’t the entire collection live up to its most beautiful essays?
At her best, Brenda Miller is luminous and poetic. In “Season of the Body,” she writes: “It’s not just the animal body I want, the mathematics of sex, the coupling: I want another heart, an extra one, a contrabassoon to echo my everyday pulse. It’s not my imagination. I hear it there, beating inside me. My bones pop and creak in their sockets.”
There are tons of lyric essays—also known as braided essays—in this book, and she shines in a lot of them. But a few times she narrates in second person, and it is jarring. Very few people can pull off second-person narration, with the exception of Jay McInerney in Bright Lights, Big City. Brenda Miller is not an exception to this trend. I want to feel closer to the author in a lyric essay; I want her to pull me next to her heart so I can feel the thump-thump of the blood that pulses and gives the author—and the essay—life. Not further away.
Still, I would recommend Season of the Body for the parts where Miller breaks free of herself. Her three best essays far, far outshine the competition: “A Thousand Buddhas,” “Split,” and “Season of the Body.” She writes so well about the raw body. “My heart, these days, is much too dense to break,” she writes in “Split.”...more
I’m a little late on this book review, as I finished this a couple of weeks ago, but here goes. This book is set in the mid-1970s—just around the timeI’m a little late on this book review, as I finished this a couple of weeks ago, but here goes. This book is set in the mid-1970s—just around the time that Patty Hearst was abducted—and centers on the author’s mother’s late-developing schizophrenia and attempt to set up a camp for a “secret army” of children to be trained.
This memoir is a fascinating portrayal of mental illness—schizophrenia—and the ways in which we are adopted into (sucked into) our parents’ issues and disabled lives. As a matter of fact, the reader is led to believe that at points Virginia Holman as a child narrator actually believes that her mother’s “secret army” will come to fruition.
Holman’s tone throughout the memoir—switching from her 1970s childhood to present-day 2000—was near pitch-perfect, though I was disappointed that there were fewer present-day chapters as the chronology of the narrative sped up. And though I quite enjoyed this memoir (as much as you can enjoy reading about schizophrenia), I did feel that the build-up of the “secret army” was a bit of a letdown—and I never understood why. Why a “secret army”? What war? Maybe the author can’t answer those questions herself, for the book is as much the author’s search for the truth as it is a narrative. And because the buildup of the “secret army” never goes anywhere, the middle of this book becomes slower, as the author’s mother attempts to act normal when her husband moves into the cabin with them.
I also think there’s not enough Patty Hearst references in this memoir to justify the title, which means that the title itself becomes a gimmick for the reader to buy the book. It’s a bit of a letdown even for me, though I knew at the beginning that this was a memoir about a childhood under the spell of a schizophrenic mother.
Still, this was a really good memoir—and fascinating for its psychological insights. Early on, Holman explains, “Schizophrenics hear voices. Now understand that unlike the voice you hear in your head telling you to remember to take your child to soccer practice at five o’clock, these voices, though they come from the brain, sound as if they come from outside. These voices are as loud and unpredictable as someone else’s stereo. It’s not like being possessed; it’s like being assaulted and enslaved.”
And I must confess that towards the end I worried—in true pseudo-hypochondriac fashion—if I might end up a schizophrenic, too....more
I'd forgotten how much I could love a memoir till I read this. (Finally.) It's beautiful and intense and dense, filled with the sort of longing--for lI'd forgotten how much I could love a memoir till I read this. (Finally.) It's beautiful and intense and dense, filled with the sort of longing--for love, for a home, for what's lost and won't ever be retrieved--that I instinctively identify with and which haunts me, too. I'll probably be thinking about this for years to come....more