constant movement and casual violence.
I’ve flown a lot this month – first to Key West for vacation, then to Philly to attend AWP. All this flying, accompanied by daylight savings time, has my body’s natural rhythms wildly confused. But, I did manage to look at things with wonder and visit two places I hadn’t been before.
The other bonus of extended air travel is all the reading one can get up to while suspended in a metal box in the sky, and by the beach, and in the tub at the hotel. The books I’ve been drawn to lately are about women being unapologetically themselves. Perhaps it’s the mood I find my own self in and I wish to see it reflected in prose. However, several of the books I’ve read recently have trucked in the casual violence women face and are written by women who choose to stare down the complicit and ask, ‘is this right?’
Stories of a Life by Nataliya Meshchaninova, trans. from Russian by Fiona Bell, is another recent read from my small press favorite, Deep Vellum. Interestingly, this serialized memoir was originally published as a series of viral Facebook posts and contributed to the MeToo movement in Russia. Told in sparse, biting prose, Meshchaninova probes her experience as a teenager coming of age in rural, post-Soviet Russia and all the betrayals that assailed her, from both family and foe. She exposes the wounds inflicted on young women and the expectation that she swallow her pain for the benefit of others. However, in writing this book, she finally breaks free of that internal oath.
In contrast to Stories of a Life, where the violence is blatant, Happy Hour by Marlowe Granados is wry and meandering and feminine, yet there is a sense of violence just underneath that keeps threatening to rise to the top. Everything is so hot during Isa and Gala’s New York summer as they try to sell clothes at a boutique stall on the weekends, scrounge for money for their overpriced sublet, attempt to trade on their social capital for free nights out, and only buy the 2-for-1 oysters platters.
It takes practice to have restraint, and we are not yet at an age to try it out.
Happy Hour is all about attempting to find an adventure of one’s own, the search for glamour amid bill collectors. And then there’s a man’s hand gripping too tight to your upper arm, the expectation of something you aren’t willing to give, and his voice echoing through the street: “sluts!” Granados uses Isa’s voice to keep the writing light and effervescent, like a glass of champagne, but that isn’t to say the book itself is light.
Finally, I read Woman Running in the Mountains by Yuko Tsushima trans. from Japanese by Geraldine Harcourt, a book I was looking forward to as I really enjoyed her novel Territory of Light. Yuko Tsushima's I-novel (essentially autofiction) is a brilliant slice-of-life narrative about an unmarried young woman, Takiko Odaka, who's pregnant by a married man with whom she had a meaningless affair. She is subsumed by the pregnancy and probes it with a sense of unreality, something that almost isn’t happening to her, until suddenly it is.
She had forgotten the sound of her own voice; she had forgotten her face and her body. Now and then a ray of light slanted in like a sunbeam through trees, bringing memories of herself in the outside world, and with them pain.
The book explores Takiko’s decision to keep the baby, despite her mother begging her to have an abortion and her alcoholic father’s beatings, and the aftereffects her decision has on both her own life and her family’s. Set in 1970's Japan where, the book informs us, 1% of women in Japan at that time had children outside of marriage, it's an impressively bold and unapologetically feminist tale.
I wanted also to write something about the experience of my first AWP conference in Philly, but I still find it hard to translate into words. It was like walking into a building where my Twitter feed had thrown up and I was dizzy with the surge of overstimulation. But it felt empowering to be there alongside my book and my publisher and I attended offsite readings that made me remember how much I love live poetry and found a dimly lit natural wine bar and visited the largest collection of Rodin sculptures outside of Paris and met up with people I knew primarily from the internet. I certainly understand the appeal now.