David S. Atkinson: A Book Club Member Reviews The Chronology of Water

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Rumpus Book Club member David S. Atkinson review’s this month’s selection, Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water:

Water is an unstoppable force. Given any obstacle, the sheer force of water will cut its way through or ignore the obstacle entirely and force its own way around.  This is not a possibility, but an inevitability.  Nothing withstands water’s power.

I found this interesting, given that water is a focal theme in Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water, as Yuknavitch’s prose has that same power.  The very first line of the book reads: “The day my daughter was stillborn, after I held the future pink and rose-lipped in my shivering arms, lifeless tender, covering her face in tears and kisses, after they handed my dead girl to my sister who kissed her, then to my first husband who kissed her, then to my mother who could not bear to hold her, then out of the hospital room door, tiny lifeless swaddled thing, the nurse gave me tranquilizers and a soap and sponge.” Zang.  That’s the only word I have to describe that opening sentence, zang.

That sentence has power, force.  That sentence slammed into me and I knew it was either going to cut right through or ignore me entirely and go its own way around.  I just grabbed on.

But this book doesn’t just have a great hook line.  It isn’t that just this opening sentence has this immense power.  No, the entire book is like this.  Yuknavitch’s lines are an unstoppable force, and it is a delight to read them and try to keep up.

Normally not one for memoir, I was lucky enough to get this book as my first encounter with The Rumpus Book Club.  The most amazing thing to me, once I got my bearings from being smacked around by the language, was the fact that the mixture of horror and wonderfulness that is Yuknavitch’s life doesn’t take over the book, as in so many memoirs.  Sure, amazing and/or terrifying things have happened to Yuknavitch.  Sure, she unflinchingly lays them open for the reader.

However, Yuknavitch finds the story within these happenings instead of just standing back and saying “look what happened to me.”  To me, Yuknavitch dominates her past to make it serve the story instead of begging the story to do homage to her life.  She seemingly leaves out much that could garner easy emotional manipulation and sympathy but does not do the right work for the story.  The result is one of the strongest memoirs I have had the pleasure to encounter.

As I do not normally go looking in memoir, I am doubly pleased I was introduced to this book through The Rumpus Book Club.  Otherwise, I would have greatly missed out.  I would suggest that others not make the same mistake I normally would have.  Don’t miss this book.

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Join The Rumpus Book Club and you will receive a copy of The Chronology of Water.


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