The Chronology of Water
At times I wanted to hate this book because it was a memoir that reminded me of me, and I didn’t get a book deal. And no one gave me an award. No, my dad didn’t abuse me, and my mom wasn’t an alcoholic, and I’m not a swimmer. But they did do some pretty messed up things to each other when I was a kid, my parents, and I was a basketball player, and I was an angry, drunk, numbed, death-seeking girl, too, just like Lidia Yuknavitch. But nobody gave me a book deal and I don’t write whole paragraphs that consist of nothing but “goddamn it” and if I did no one would give me an award for it.
I guarantee you.
I wanted to hate it because everybody loved it. And because I’ve loved women, too, you know. You’re not the only bisexual crazy girl out there. You’re not the only fucked up one. And I wanted to hate it because she claims that writing saved her, when half the time it feels like writing, this guilt I have about not-writing, or the shame I have about how bad the writing I do get down actually is, is what’s pushing me further towards the death-drive. How I would just chuck it all and forget about it if I could, if I thought there was anything else. And I wanted to hate it because it was sad and scary and tortured and not even in a pretty package like a novel, just all hanging out there, like real life.
I wanted to hate it but I couldn’t because of the truth and ache of it. Because of chapters like “Distilled,” where she relays the story of her second marriage in what amounts to one long sentence “distilling” the essence of an 11 year relationship, beauty, pleasure, and pain all mixed up in every phrase. And then, from the chapter “Conversion” onward, things get better. That’s when I started to really like it. Okay, I’ll be honest; that’s when I started sniveling with gratitude, sobbing into my roll of toilet paper while I sat outside on an unusually sunny day under a cloudless sky. Because I already know things are fucked up, that people are awful, that we do horrifying things to one another and to ourselves. I’m well versed in that, thank you. Didn’t need somebody else’s memoir to tell me that; I’ve got my own (unpublished) one all about it. What I wanted, what we all want, is the redemption. The moment things start to turn around. And that’s here too. Love, and peace, and “resuscitation.” If this author, this Yuknavitch woman, can accept that a new chance at life is what’s happening to her, maybe I can too. The hard part is it’s not something you accept once and then be done with; happiness – “learning to live on land,” as Yuknavitch puts it – is something you have to come to terms with again and again, every day, until you die, and maybe even after that.
So this book is a memoir, not a novel, and I’m okay with that now. I’m okay with the mess of it particularly because the overarching metaphor of water, swimming, drowning, and floating holds the thing together so, well, fluidly. It seems natural and obvious and perfect. Unlike life, and yet exactly like it, too.