A Review of Jordan Rothacker’s And Wind Will Wash Away

awwwa

A Review of Jordan Rothacker’s And Wind Will Wash Away

By Nate Ragolia

Like James Joyce and Thomas Pynchon before him, Jordan A. Rothacker takes on the epic novel in his masterful debut, And Wind Will Wash Away (hereafter referred to as AWWWA). AWWWA tells the story of Atlanta Police Detective Jonathan Wind, an observant, intellectual, no-nonsense sleuth cut from the same cloth as Sherlock Holmes and Joe Friday.

In Rothacker’s own words, Jonathan Wind is “A dash of one friend, a dollop of another, fold in some traits from Philip Marlowe, a little zest of Agent Dale Cooper, a pinch of K. from Kafka’s The Castle, two cups of Faust, and then stir and forget all of that as I start to see the new creation congealing out of the mess.” And Wind is all of these ingredients and more, fully-realized and alive.

Set in 2003, we follow Wind after a fight with his girlfriend Monica that leaves him frustrated and seeking the affection of his mistress, Flora. Typical of the noir genre, Wind’s future hinges on the power of the phone call. Two calls set up his coming journey: the first, to his mistress, that ends when another man answers the phone; the second, from his partner, calling him to the scene of a murder where the victim just happens to be that same mistress.

Rothacker ups the ante and the energy, revealing that Flora died mysteriously in a hyper-localized fire. While his partner and the police force disagree, Jonathan Wind suspects foul play. At this point, AWWWA makes a powerful leap from crime noir to postmodern exploration. Rothacker’s adeptness at this switch is impressive. He carefully blends philosophy, myth, and religion into his protagonist’s forward-charging pursuit of the truth behind his lover’s death. What results is a mystery on par with Twin Peaks that embraces spiritualism and madness, blurring the lines between superficial realities and those beneath that we’ve trampled through cycles of colonialism, war, law, and order.

Truly, AWWWA is a unique reading experience. Rothacker imbues his book with Tarantino-like dialogue spoken by deep, lively characters. The setting, Atlanta, Georgia, is  a surging, breathing entity, with its twisting spaghetti of roadways tangled up in its own complicated history that is as much Detective Wind’s partner as his home. History, philosophy, and religion are their own characters in AWWWA. Rothacker–who prefaces the novel with his background in Religious Studies–infuses Wind’s twisting mystery with figures from Aztec, Mayan, Catholic, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, and other backgrounds. Case interviews result in deep, revelatory conversations that are as instructional as they are entertaining. In short, this novel is deep and rewarding, influenced by the great works that preceded it.

“[Joyce] was my first really profound literary love,” Rothacker said in an interview. “At 17 I was a member of the International James Joyce Foundation. Other than lots of linguistic puns and ‘larding’ the text for my own amusement, what I used from Joyce is that device in Ulysses where every chapter has it’s own theme and governing principle.” Rothacker paces the entire book so one never feels as though they’re waiting in the back row of a comparative religion classroom, watching the clock. Instead, each page commands to be turned, captivating you–and Detective Wind–with Flora’s mysterious death. The result is an engaging story that blends the ordered cleverness of Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe with the worldly, thoughtful interactions of My Dinner With Andre. Readers will pursue Jonathan Wind on his search for real answers amid the degrees of unknowable throughout Atlanta and beyond.

This is a story as much about the case of a dead lover as of secret lives, of dark magic or strange rituals. And Wind Will Wash Away is a story about the self and the shrouded mysteries within. Jordan Rothacker is one of the most masterful writers I have ever read, and this novel is an opportunity to enter into a conversation with him that will surely be longer, grow more personal and complex. Treat yourself by reading And Wind Will Wash Away immediately, and take your own journey toward truth.

Jordan A. Rothacker, And Wind Will Wash Away, Deeds Publishing, 2016: $24.95

***

Nate Ragolia is the author of the novella, There You Feel Free; creator of the Illiterate Badger and Lark & Robin webcomics; and occasional chatterer on music, film, &c on Medium. He is also editor-in-chief of Boned: a collection of skeletal fiction, poetry, essays, and more.

A Review of Mary McMyne’s Wolf Skin

https://i2.wp.com/cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0719/1219/products/wolf_skin_1024x1024.jpg

A Review of Mary McMyne’s Wolf Skin

By Jennifer Dane Clements

We remember best that which haunts us. The memories or fears that we carry, percolate in our bloodstreams. As children, the unknown and unknowable facets of the world succumb to dreamscapes of mythical proportions, allowing us to be haunted by things ordinary and alive: the toothy jags of a broken window, an attic portrait with a traveling gaze, the gnarled witch and her warty moral to the story. As children, we await their instruction, understanding that which haunts us to have a strange and beguiling power.

It is with this in mind that Mary McMyne frames Wolf Skin, a chapbook of poems from the voice of a woman whose own childhood was steeped in the twists and vines of the old German fairy tales. Now, grown, the echoes of the tales return to her as commentary to her daily life and reminders from long ago.

The most harrowing of these echoes advises the woman to “Be not girl . . . but wolf.” Those who do not become wolves, speaks the memory of her mother, are little more than dolls, “dumb as porcelain.” As though one’s evolution through personhood is a journey built on unpleasant binaries: vicious or inert, brave or in need of rescue.

In the titular poem, we come to understand the huntsman from “Little Red Riding Hood” embellished his tale of heroism from something more closely approximating a sad act of butchery, his liberated victims still reeling from shock and too disoriented to mutter more than a few words. There were no great thanks or praise, no ceremonies, and the trophy he claimed to have taken from his heroic deed. The “wolf skin” of the poem and of the collection’s title speaks to the assumed persona, the larger-than-life fiction we cloak ourselves in to satisfy some notion of bravery, of gender, of morality.

Childhoods are fascinated with dark spaces and mystery, and lean with curiosity towards danger. In McMyne’s retelling of these familiar tales, we’re reminded of the darker themes lurking behind characters we’ve come to associate with youthful innocence: death, isolation, pain. And so we encounter the wolf lurking at the doorstep where a girl laps at her popsicle, the prince who’s been cursed to live as a hedgehog, the pregnant and yearning princess captive in her tower.

Indeed these reminders often deal in fierceness–how it can be assumed or appropriated, how growth and heroism seem intertwined. And, perhaps most importantly, how these values and lessons transcend and permeate into our time, today, where still we find what’s necessary at odds with what makes for a compelling hero’s tale.

The collection begins and ends with the image of a moth, from the mother’s collection, perfect and asphyxiated, pinned to a corkboard. As an expression of both the fairy tales she illustrates and of the book itself, this image carries acute resonance: delicate, inquisitive, and a tinge darker than people might expect.

Mary McMyne, Wolf Skin. Dancing Girl Press, 2014: $7.00

***

Jennifer Clements is a writer of all sorts based in Washington, D.C. Her work has been featured in publications including Barrelhouse, Hippocampus, WordRiot, Psychopomp, and on stages in DC and New York. She is a prose editor of ink&coda and writes regularly for Luna Luna Magazine and DC Theatre Scene. She holds an MFA in creative writing from George Mason University. Visit her online at www.jennifer-dane-clements.com.

A Review of Rochelle Hurt’s The Rusted City

41V+a8b2IHL

A Review of Rochelle Hurt’s The Rusted City

By J. Andrew Goodman

The Rusted City is an imaginative debut novella-in-poems by Rochelle Hurt, chosen as the 2014 installment of the Marie Alexander Poetry Series, an imprint of White Pine Press. The collection follows a family living in the Rusted City where buildings, fauna, and people have corroded from disuse. Jobs and fathers are mythologized and ephemeral, leaving wives and daughters equally susceptible to corrosion. “[Rust], mothers would say to one another, will eat through anything.”

The collection follows a family of four–the Favorite Father, the Quiet Mother, the oldest Sister, and the Smallest Sister–similar to many families in the Rust Belt town amid the strife of unemployment and listlessness and their byproducts. However, Hurt’s vibrant prose animates rivers, turns scrap gardens into jewelry boxes, and rust and oils into something palatable. On one’s first tour, the city glints with old world glory.

The Rusted City subsumes color–patina and verdigris, rust and blood, snow and ash–as a metaphor seemingly changing as scenes and characters do. In one scene, the red of rust signifies the accumulation of secrets; in another, the physical redness of eyes after much weeping.

Through Hurt’s tight and deliberate language, rust, the consequence of the city’s halted production, corrodes the alloyed inhabitants. Such corrosion makes them stiff, opaque, lacking in reflection. Rust becomes a metaphor for callousness or numbness. The city’s many fathers are guilty of sexual abuse. The Favorite Father seeks reconciliation with the Quiet Mother, but she reacts as her moniker suggests:

Once you were silver,/ skin-tease and flash, // I could reach inside/ your chest, empty // as a tin canister, the air / thick with echo, I could stretch // my fingers out and tap / my nail against your heart, // which hung like a spoon / from your ribcage, // once I tapped too hard / and it clattered to the bottom // of your gut. I spent months / trying to hang it back up.

The Rusted City’s other women respond similarly, ossifying against their husband’s apologies, effectively becoming constructs. “In need of music, dancing women began to hum, // bus still refused to move their tongues. Their men resolved to hold them still until // some mouths softened with moss or crumbled.” All the citizens adopt such forms to conceal their trauma or distress. Rochelle Hurt’s clever rendering of bodies reveals the “impatient decay” of heavily tested love, how quickly silence becomes distance.

Silence exudes almost every page as a gift of reprieve, as a secret, and as a weapon. The Smallest Sister, whom the collection follows most closely, tries to recapture the language to speak of her own abuse, to give a name to her experience. She appropriates it one word at a time with help from the Oldest Sister.

Once inhabited by silence, Hurt’s characters are inert machines: cold and interchangeable cogs, the mothers are indefatigable and quiet in their “sweeping” of the past. “Often, mothers caught one another / by the river at night, eyes wide, / arms locked to brooms. Often, // they agreed to make another secret / of their sweeping, and no one knew // how much of the city’s past / the water had swallowed.” More and more, the citizens and their pasts are enveloped in rust. In concerted effort, Rochelle Hurt reveals the nature of pain: infectious and ubiquitous.

The Rusted City is a product of collective labor. An entire city works to conceal its past before younger generations may rediscover it. In the process, one wonders if the intense corruption begins in the atmosphere or whether it is internal, spreading outward.

The Rusted City is an intimate examination of familial strife. Rochelle Hurt’s use of metaphor compounds the affect of language and implication. Her imagery is smart and wondrous, while her insights remind us that reconciliation is precipitous and piecemeal.

Rochelle Hurt, The Rusted City. White Pine Press, 2014: $16.00

***

J. Andrew Goodman is the Managing Book Review Editor for As It Ought To Be, a Library Page for the Louisville Free Public Library, and a former marketing and editorial intern for White Pine Press. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from Murray State University.

A Review of Agustin Aguilar’s Leonora Come Down

 leonora come down cover

A Review of Agustin Aguilar’s Leonora Come Down

By Nate Ragolia

Where lies the line between myth, falsehood, and reality? That is one of the central questions buried amid, gorgeous, poetic prose in Agustin Aguilar’s novella Leonora Comes Down, recently published by We Heard You Like Books. This work of fiction, elegant and lush in its descriptions, its mythos, and the world it creates revolving around small town  Wiskatchekwa is a challenging yet intimate read. Focusing on a boy named Arturo who one day finds and befriends a pyramid that is simultaneously his shadow, a chalice of lore and history, and a living entity (perhaps a goddess), Leonora Come Down invites readers to observe, absorb, and untangle an otherworldly puzzle.

Aguilar’s writing style finds a comfortable footing somewhere between William Faulkner, Margaret Atwood, and Harper Lee. His xenophobic, conservative hamlet of Wiskatchekwa is as fully imagined and populated by quirky characters as Maycomb or the small, gossipy town from “A Rose for Emily.” The novella requires intense reading, which may not work for everyone, but those who choose to will find the long, river-like sentences to be short poems themselves:

Sand was a fearful thing, like bobbleheads of the high school’s mascot, Red the Warrior, but they felt secure, they could sleep over a shapeless ghost of the past–though townspeople did not go in for flowery comparisons–because it wasn’t as if Wiskatchekwa were waves of drift, they also had silt and clay, great ingredients for growth, and the restrictive feature wasn’t far below.

Such sentences are frequent in Leonora Come Down and they typify the novella’s pleasures and pains. Though short, parsing through the many details in a single sentence may be challenging.

When I asked Agustin Aguilar about his influences, he replied, “The writer most on my mind when I began this story was Leonora Carrington, who of course lends her name. She is somewhat of a spiritual presence, a companion, in all of this. I’d count her novel, The Hearing Trumpet, as a particular influence. Stylistically, the influences vary. I wanted the language, at the line level, to read sort of effortlessly (though I realize some might take more than a little effort!). To be fairly simple, in terms of the imagery, the sentiment, the action. This is the fairy and folklore influence. And yet many sentences have a run-on quality, this sense of uncertainty and unnerving forward momentum. So there is tension in the narrative voice. This is also due to the task of weaving extraordinary events into a seemingly mundane setting–it was important that I keep the story rooted in a semi-recognizable place.”

Aguilar’s story deals primarily in the ways people doubt the new, fear change, but eventually come together. The town, Wiskatchekwa, wishes to remain small, fears the South and the people of the nearby lake. It is a world couched in revisionist history and superstition. Wiskatchekwa is less a setting than a character itself–reminiscent of Harper Lee or William Faulkner’s places. Aguilar’s fictional berg is a lively, opinionated, and occasionally antagonistic place. Wiskatchekwa resists change, while making revisions to its own history. Wiskatchekwa is pan-optic in the way small towns are: nothing escapes its gaze and no issue goes on without comment. The book’s main characters, Arturo and Leonora, are scrutinized, labeled, and qualified by the town’s magical collective consciousness. Wiskatchekwa is a character ripped from time, misplaced, but also stone-set, serving as both lens and parrot for common and universal fears and superstitions. Arturo’s worldview is motivated and limited by what the town and townspeople think. The town’s perception is a primary source of conflict.

Magical realism is also prominent in Aguilar’s world. Only Arturo remains consistent, serving as an innocent but knowing proxy for the reader; he takes the world at its face. Arturo is a vessel, willing to learn, repeating the prejudices and fears of the other townsfolk as a conveyance for sharing them with us.

Leonora Comes Down is about humanity and community, about what we choose to believe and the things we choose to deny. Aguilar’s novella is an exploration of truth, pondering the impacts of gossip, misinformation, and xenophobia. Readers will explore the ways we build our egos–and the egos of our communities–on believable, repeatable fictions, and the way that we often blindly trust whatever culture is handed down to us from generations prior.

Leonora Comes Down is also a self-reflexive study of myth and storytelling. The novella often focuses on the ways that we use stories to control each other, to change reality, and even to improve this world. Much of culture comprises the ways we look at the world and the stories we tell ourselves to try and understand it.

Suffice to say, Leonora Come Down is a brilliant work of magical realism, poetic prose, pseudo-Gothic fiction, and epistemological philosophy. The journey from page one to its satisfying and poignant ending will leave the reader with much to think about. Aguilar’s work is stunning, beautiful, with its own elaborate and believable mythos. His is a story of stories and storytellers, and despite its intricate, challenging form, one of the most rewarding books you may ever read.

Agustin Aguilar, Leonora Come Down. We Heard You Like Books, 2016: $12.95

***

Nate Ragolia is the author of the novella, There You Feel Free; Creator of the Illiterate Badger and Lark & Robin webcomics; and occasional chatterer on music, film, &c on Medium. He is also editor-in-chief of Boned: a collection of skeletal fiction, poetry, essays, and more.

A Review of Sarah Marcus’s Backcountry

Sarah Marcus Backcountry

A Review of Sarah Marcus’s Backcountry

by Karen Skolfield

In my review copy of Sarah Marcus’s chapbook from Finishing Line Press, Marcus includes a friendly, cheerful handwritten note to me which she signs “Love & Bears.” Love – a not-unusual sign off, and she knew my gender, so it’s the salutation between two women writers, but bears? And I look at the title: Backcountry. Of course. Where there are bears.

Turns out, in the backcountry there’s also plenty of love, so Marcus was giving me a succinct preview of her book. There’s love and its near-opposite, a couple we see struggling in their relationship, their lives. By placing the couple so often in the outdoors, the usual trappings of domesticity disappear: no one’s fixing the indoor plumbing as a sign the romance has gone out of the relationship, no one’s passive aggressively leaving dishes in the sink. Instead, they’re looking at maps, watching for storms, telling stories and dreaming, building a fire, building a fire again, that deep symbol of made and shared warmth, the collapse into coals, and is that good or bad? – Marcus lets us answer that question ourselves, even as this couple cycles through unhealthy behavior that may or may not be healthier than the lives they lived without each other.

The couple flashes in and out of the backcountry and a more urban and expected life, both offering their unique dangers. The way a simple rain can turn into a flash flood, “how water steals faces but leaves bodies.” A car rusting in a driveway as the woman contemplates the relationship. What a boat’s spinning propeller can do. When a coyote follows the woman and the couple take up a gun and bow, it’s clear this is not a real coyote but the specter of the relationship’s disintegration they’re warding off.

We hear that howl. We wish the couple well.

I should say: We sort of wish them well. This is a couple we sense shouldn’t be. Still, if this invented couple were all prairie paintbrush and squeaking marmots, all fireweed – the flower that blooms prolifically and purple after wildfire has scarred the landscape black – we’d be disappointed. We need their struggles and their troubles. We know those troubles, and hope we’re mostly beyond them, or won’t stumble into them again. We’ve been the man, telling her “not to make this more difficult than it needs to be.” We’ve been the woman saying everything’s fine, but “annoyed they’ve hiked all these miles to have the same conversation they’ve had at their kitchen table hundreds of times before.” We’re the looming need for rehab, the possibility of prison or a psych ward, the needle scars, the parent dying, the waste of looking for completion through another person instead of through the self.

Though I’m spending time telling the stories, that’s not to say it’s the only reason to keep reading. The narrative arc is pleasing, no doubt, but it’s the fineness of the poems and the finesse of language that makes each poem worthwhile. Like a tracker, I follow Marcus’s language, looking for the misstep in the mudbank – the classic mistake of a creature not wanting to be noticed – but there are no missteps here. Marcus’s chap is the literary equivalent of walking on rocks, each line firm and carefully placed. The endings are an absolute pleasure, never forced, and when I go back through and read them I notice that all but three or four of them end on the woman’s actions or point of view, and maybe this shouldn’t be surprising but I’m enormously pleased by this. Toward the end of the book, the softer third person switches to first person, the hammer of it – there’s been a major shift in the relationship – and it’s dizzying and perfect, both sad and triumphant.

And not to give too many spoilers, but there are bears, though not, perhaps, the bears you might expect. Take a woman and a man. Add some hardships and addiction. Have the adults deal with those things again and again. Now add bears – see how the wildest things go on and live or die without us, see how they move on, as in dreams? That’s how it is, Marcus tells us, for good or ill. That’s what happens in the backcountry.

Sarah Marcus, Backcountry. Finishing Line Press, 2013: $14

***

Karen Skolfield is the author of FROST IN THE LOW AREAS (Zone 3 Press, 2013). She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two kids. She teaches technical writing at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she also earned her MFA. She is a contributing editor at Bateau Press and the literary magazine Stirring, and her poems have appeared in 2011 Best of the Net Anthology, Cave Wall, Memorious, Painted Bride Quarterly, Rattle, Tar River Poetry, Verse DailyWest Branch, and others.

 

 

A Review of Len Joy’s American Past Time

Len Joy's Novel, American Past Time

A Review of Len Joy’s American Past Time

by Jody Hobbs Hesler

Len Joy’s debut novel, American Past Time, is part time capsule and part baseball love affair. The title itself promises this (baseball is considered an America’s pastime, and this novel takes place in America’s past). It hearkens to the American hunger for the major leagues and the good life, spanning twenty years in the lives of the Stonemason family – from the post-war world of 1953 all the way to the summer of 1973.

Readers might expect such a nostalgic look at America to take a too-narrow, Mom-and-apple-pie approach, but Joy avoids this pitfall. What readers get instead is a steady-on account of a gifted ball player, Dancer Stonemason, first as he is poised on the brink of what might be a glorious career in the majors, next as he reckons with the more tortured day-in, day-out existence of a factory job in the 1950s American South, and beyond.

The first section of the book belongs to Dancer. The point of view shifts to his wife, Dede, in the next section, and finally to that of their two sons, Jimmy and Clayton, in the third and final section of the novel. Joy chose a pivotal twenty years to cover in his work. His characters reckon with pressures at the workplace from the Ku Klux Klan, the shocking (especially at the time) discovery of a wife’s lesbian lover, stories of the Civil Rights Movement,= and evidence of the slow changes it brings, a son going off to Vietnam, cancer, and more.

The Stonemasons’ many struggles, failures, and triumphs parallel the challenges and changes of the nation throughout these same times. But we start simply, with Dancer’s pure love of baseball: “He had a hand built for pitching – a pancake-sized palm and long, tapered fingers that hid the ball from the batter for that extra heartbeat” (2).

One bright day in Maple Springs, Missouri – a week before Dancer is scheduled to sub for a major league pitcher and get his chance at the big leagues – his wife and son come to watch him pitch. Everything he loves is in one place. Even the weather cooperates with Dancer’s optimism: “The sky was great-to-be-alive blue” (18).

Before the game, Rolla Rebel team owner, Doc, advises Dancer to go easy on his arm to keep it fresh for next week, and they plan to pull him after a few innings. But as the game promises to become legendary, fellow Rebel and veteran catcher, Billy Pardue, tells him, “You want to stay up in the Bigs, remember this – respect the goddam game. Play every game like it’s your last” (17), echoing Dancer’s own desire to honor his love for the game and continue.

As the innings progress toward what will become Dancer’s one perfect game, the community watching seems to unite in awe of him: “As he walked out to the mound for the seventh inning the crowd was eerily quiet, as if they were afraid the cheering might upset the baseball gods” (20-21).

Afterward, clouds roll into that “great-to-be-alive blue” sky. Doc lets Dancer know he can’t fill in for the major league pitcher anymore because he exhausted his arm, but surely he would get another chance. And Dancer takes heart. “It was a perfect game. No one could take that from him. … No matter what else happened they would always have that game. That moment. And Doc was right. He was young. He’d get another chance” (27). That innocent trust in the future sets up the disappointment and aching nostalgia that follow Dancer, and really all of us, after a peak moment we never know will be the last of its kind.

Dancer’s legendary game buys him a few years of low-level local fame, but we learn soon afterward that “the problem with his arm had developed the spring after the perfect game” (29). Dancer takes a better-paying job, pouring steel at the Caterpillar foundry, and the weight he gains in muscle mass, according to Doc, “might have thrown off his mechanics” (29). Whatever the cause, clearly nothing will be the same for Dancer again.

Soon Dancer is nobody’s hero anymore, and the work is hard and unrelenting. On the job, Dancer faces pressure from the owner’s son to attend Ku Klux Klan meetings. At home, his wife and two sons need more than he seems able to provide. He starts drinking with his best friend, staying out later and later. Everything starts slipping. Eventually, his wife Dede fears, “Things were never going to be normal in Maple Springs. Dancer was broken. … [E]very time she got a little bit ahead, Dancer would end up knocking that rock back down the hill” (199). All evidence seems to doom Dancer to ultimate failure. But sometimes, when second chances happen, they don’t look a thing like what you would expect.

This novel is a paean to the American Dream, not the showy upmarket commercial full-of-promises version, but the sort of dream you gain through trial, error, toil, and endurance. In Len Joy’s American Past Time, Dancer Stonemason rebuilds his dreams against the backdrop of a country doing the same thing.

Len Joy, American Past Time. Hark! New Era Publishing, LLC, 2014: $5.99

***

Jody Hobbs Hesler lives and writes in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Her fiction, feature articles, essays, and book reviews appear or are forthcoming in Steel Toe Review, Valparaiso Fiction Review, Prime Number, Pearl, Charlottesville Family Magazine, A Short Ride: Remembering Barry Hannah, and others. You can follow her at jodyhobbshesler.com or on her Facebook writer page: Jody Hobbs Hesler – Writer.

A Review of Simi Linton’s My Body Politic

A Review of Simi Linton’s My Body Politic

by Kate Grisim

 

Simi Linton’s My Body Politic takes readers through the aftermath of a road trip as a young adult to join a protest demonstration against the then-current war in Vietnam. The setting is a spring day in 1971; three youngsters (the protagonist, her husband, and her best friend) innocently stick their thumbs out to hitch a ride. They were en route to support a cause all three of them believed in, but by the end of the day, Linton’s life was derailed in a way she hadn’t conceived possible. Her story, however, only starts here.

The deaths of John (Linton’s first husband) and Carol (her best friend), seemingly the most traumatic situation that a person could imagine, take a back seat in Linton’s story to the trauma she endured in becoming a woman disabled by society and circumstance. This transition from loss to gain is the essential arc of Linton’s story. She does not soften her situation with flowery epithets of hope but instead mourns the life she once had as she “reconstructs […] the life I grew into.” Linton does not do this arrogantly, portraying herself as a rather naive, passive shell of a person in the first half of her memoir. For example, Linton is forced to take on the role of the “good patient” in the hospital, where ironically “[i]t wasn’t until the third or fourth week that a doctor came to tell me that my legs were paralyzed [….] I must have known it on some level, but kept the thought at bay.” Her further encounters with both medical professionals and friends and family members only add to this affect, even to the extent of having her sister travel to Linton’s late husband’s funeral to absorb the shock for her.

This is not merely circumstantial; it is clear that Linton sets up her dependency on people within the pages of her memoir in order to achieve a harsh portrayal of herself and the state of her body both before and after the accident. Perhaps the most harrowing image, one that has stayed with me well after finishing Linton’s story, is the description of a flashback to a photo shoot for a New York underground newspaper, in which Linton is posed under the headline “SLUM GODDESS:”

…had it been just a couple of years before [the accident] that I had stood tall on the roof of my apartment building in the East Village, with the New York City skyline rising up behind me? [I was] dressed in John’s black v-neck sweater and tattered jeans, [….] costumed as an ethereal symbol of the counterculture. I stood in profile, my face tilted upward, my long wavy hair blowing out behind me.

Although Linton describes instances in which she attempts to distance herself from the passivity her condition seems to require by demanding her newly disabled body be taken seriously (especially by an “unassuming” salesman trying to take advantage of fitting her for a prosthesis), it is not until one hundred pages in that readers might begin to get the feeling Linton is finally approaching the real crux of her story. This is not to say that the text before this point is trite or inconsequential; on the contrary, as after her hospital stay she writes about exposing herself to a new world where she is a curious entity, moving to California to attend college only to find they have already discovered “the disability movement” and she does not quite fit into their image of it just yet, and situating the disabled body against “normative” notions such as travel, dance, sex, intimacy, and celebrity. It is precisely in this section’s substantiality that Linton is at last able to reach a crucial narrative point, revealing a poignant and pivotal moment in her life’s bumpy journey.

At the beginning of chapter nine, Linton writes, “I have become a disabled woman over time.” In that one sentence, she recognizes the importance of not being “made invisible by the label [of disability]” but instead by embracing it not only as an individual but also through forcing herself to recognize her position within a community. This is where the title of her memoir, My Body Politic, really hits the mark, as readers are let into the realization that her story is not just a personal one but is also a political one as well. Linton describes this argument in a circumstance where she relates her experiences to someone who “doesn’t seem so much rude as misinformed [….] the man will nod and commiserate and act as if now he knows what is important about disability – its genesis.” She continues, describing how she found the act of writing a political “release” as well:

I did not have the precise language to describe the other parts of the disability experience – the kinds of obstacles or the intrusive people I encountered every day – nor had I found a way to talk about my new situation as a natural state, my wheelchair as a convenience, or my experiences in ways that would be interesting to anyone besides myself and a few like-minded people.

Linton uses her memoir’s final pages to further describe situations in which she and others take a political stance by using their personal lives as impetus for change or response. For example, there is little room to argue with a political statement describing how friends of Linton’s were denied the ability to get married because it would drastically decrease their allowances for life-saving medical equipment, only to then have a mere two years together once their request was finally approved. Writes Linton of this tragedy: “That this nation made it so hard for them to marry and live comfortably in the time they had is the shame of this nation.” At this point, readers should truly appreciate how Linton’s narrative and personal stance have changed and evolved in order to use such circumstances to point out damning political paradigms that prevent disabled persons from living the lives they clearly deserve.

However, such a reading within a disability framework is not necessary for Linton’s story to effectively reach her audience, and perhaps this is where the true beauty of her story lies. Linton’s talent on the page enables her to have written a compelling narrative evoking important questions about humanity, including whether and why one deserves to undergo such emotional turmoil at the same time they must experience intense physical turmoil as well.

 

Simi Linton, My Body Politic. The University of Michigan Press, 2006: $30.95 (hardcover), $21.95 (paperback)

***

Kate Grisim is currently a second-year Master’s student in the interdisciplinary field of disability studies at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada. She is a recent convert to the blogosphere at mylittlecrippledheart.wordpress.com and is currently halfway through a writer-in-residency position at a not-for-profit arts organization.