Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Lidia Yuknavitch Reads from Her Memoir

I have some idiosyncrasies when it comes to my reading habits. For instance, I tend to avoid Irish novels and memoirs about abuse or addiction. I also tend to use an overly large brush when painting books with these stripes. I can't explain this bias, and I certainly can't justify it. It's just one of my reading tics.

So when I first started hearing about The Chronology of Water, by Lidia Yuknavitch, my first thought was "probably not my cup of tea," because I had slapped it with the brush "abuse memoir."  But I decided to check it out anyway because the book is published by Hawthorne Books, a Portland-based publisher.  Hawthorne is a small press, publishing just a few books each year, so they are very selective in what they choose to publish. And then they work closely with their authors and designers to produce books that are of excellent quality, both in terms of content and design. So I figured I'd try just a taste.

I had no idea what I was in for. Three days later I came up for air. Once I started reading The Chronology of Water, I had to force myself to go to work and to sleep and anything else that required putting the book down.

You know you're in for an emotional ride when a memoir begins "The day my daughter was stillborn...."  But I was not prepared for such a breathtaking combination of heartbreak and stoicism. It is intense. Powerful.  Fearless. Honest.  It makes you mad, and it makes you weep. It takes turns you do not see coming. But don't just take my word for it.

Cheryl Strayed calls the book "a brutal beauty bomb and a true love song," saying it is "alive with emotion, both merciful and utterly merciless....This is the book I'm going to press into everyone's hands for years to come." Chuck Palahniuk calls the book extraordinary and says he's read it a dozen times: "And I will, most likely, return to it for inspiration and ideas, and out of sheer admiration, for the rest of my life."

And those are just the pre-pub reviews. Since the book was published, the reviews have been almost as stunning as the book itself; this memoir is definitely resonating powerfully with its readers. Here's a snippet from one: "Reading The Chronology of Water is like reading while swimming weightless under water with no need to come up for air. It's that different, that remarkable."

Or this: "If this isn't the most authentic, honest, attempt at a memoir from someone who's not protecting herself in the slightest, then Lidia has sold her soul to the devil. Again and again, I found myself thinking, 'I can't believe she's actually telling me this.' And there is no shallow end. It starts with gruesome, excruciating pain, and goes on from there." Another reviewer described her prose as "witty, jarring, worthy of dogearing," saying it alternates between "gleeful postmodern exercise and wrenching elegy."

I'm reluctant to describe the specifics of the book or Lidia's life; you really need to read the book for yourself. But I will say that it's about relationships, and creating, and water, and sex -- lots and lots of sex. My mom tried to buy a copy of The Chronology of Water when she was in the store this week, but I stopped her. Because the copy on the front jacket flap begins 'This is not your mother's memoir." Sorry, Mom! But for everyone else, dig in!

Lidia will be reading from her memoir at Broadway Books tomorrow night (Thursday, June 2) at 7 pm. I hope you can join us. It is likely to be a night that won't soon leave your brain.

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