Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch

The Chronology of Water is Lidia Yuknavitch's sexy, dirty, wordy, wet memoir. Lidia is not that much older than I am. Is it time for us to write memoirs?

What everyone has already said about this book, which is absolutely true, is that it is very honest. From the fragmented structure to the chatty tone, there is nothing artificial about it: there is no artifice. Lidia came from a scary home, has led a wild life, and writes from a very complicated place. In her book, she tears the scab off, rips the scar open, maybe even peels back the skin, and shows us everything she can. Reading this book is kind of like sitting down with the cool, beautiful, crazy girl who's always been sort of fascinating but inaccessible, and having her flush, really flush all the stuff inside her head. And you can't believe your luck -- it's not the usual "no one understands me" stuff, but actual stuff worthy of dishing. Death. Pain. Birth. DUI. Wetting yourself. Getting the crap beaten out of you. Her portrayal of all these events is as straight as it can be imagined one can tell it. I was kind of blown away by that. 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, excrutiating pain, and goes on from there.

Now let me sell the book a little.

This is a book that is full of sex. And not just the discreet sex where a sex scene begins and then ends and you read through forty more pages and get to another sex scene. This sex leaks into everything, every expression of pleasure, every description, almost every scene to be honest. One of the most unusual aspects of the book is the inside out sexual plot arc. Where you normally expect a survivor's salvation memoir to run from sexual damage to sexual shut down through a reawakening to renewed health, etc. -- this book's sex doesn't quit. In defiance of expectation, the book sketches out a different geometry, not an arc at all but a tessellation, layering sex and death, sex and birth, sex and women, men, road work, writing, everything. It's so pervasive, you'll believe it's not there just to titillate. Maybe sex as an undercurrent to all things is a more authentic way to represent a life, more authentic than just packaging it into certain scenes, certain times. I don't know.

Let's return to the question of age and ask a brutal question. Let's ask, quietly, if a memoirist who is not yet 50 can really be trusted when it comes to the final chapters. Doesn't the current husband, the current job, the current life get filtered through the lens of the happy ending? You don't write a memoir if you haven't landed somewhere that feels permanent -- either jail or happiness -- so once you've decided you're happy, you're going to write your way there. This may be a cynical way to look at it. Is Lidia Yuknavitch really done? Has she written herself to the end of the story? Will there be another memoir in 20 years, one that erupts through this one, floods it with new revelations, the next bold geometry? I hope so, actually. And when I read that one, it won't make this one any less. This book, this art, is what she now believes. I believe that she believes it. And that makes the book, for me.


  1. Terrific review and commentary! Regarding Lidia's age: I think she, and I, and some women writers of similar age may feel an urgency to present the world with a smarter and truer view of the interior life as it presses against the exterior life, particularly in a time of women and men in the public realm who are cartoons and liars and hypocrites.

    It's significant that Lidia is considered an innovative writer. I'd hazard to say that the majority of women experimental writers I know did/do not limit experiments to words but rather understand the perpetual entanglement between language and body and thus live quite outside cultural boundaries. Thanks for reviewing this book!

  2. Looking forward to reading. Just downloaded. Thanks.

  3. Debra thanks! I understand the urgency to represent, and it certainly seems dumb to wait for some unspecified age or point in the future at which point it is "memoir time." I know another woman who wrote a memoir at the age of 30, and I remember thinking, wow, really? You're done? Maybe it's the word memoir that is tripping me up, maybe a retrospective written in midlife should be called something else. A midoir. But there is definitely a feeling to a memoir (and I think The Chronology of Water has this feeling) that doesn't exist in writing that's just sort of confessional non-fiction. Who knows, maybe someday Lidia's memoirs will be sold as a boxed set. :) :)

    David -- enjoy!

  4. Just wanted to let you know that I've linked this review over at The Lit Pub's page for Lidia's COW. We'll be discussing COW a chapter a day, beginning Monday, and I hope you'll consider revisiting it with us.


  5. Maa Sarla Devi Ji knows the anguish of her consumers and wants to get rid of their grief as soon as possible. She never wants that you can suffer from any type of problem in your pleasurable life.

    Love Problem Solution