By Judy Clement Wall
I recently read Lidia Yuknavitch’s memoir, The Chronology of Water, a book I absolutely loved for its determination to look squarely at the wreckage of a truly broken heart and not make it pretty or poetic or simple.
Here is the opening sentence:
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.
You know one thing for certain after an opening like that, this won’t be an easy or forgettable book. It’s about love and truth and pain and staggering human frailty; if you keep reading, you can expect to be altered.
In reviews and interviews, Yuknavitch has been called an experimental writer, and she is, in the best way. She writes from the heart to the outer edges of our emotions. Her stories are raw and honest, her language at once fiercely naked and stunningly lyrical. She is a unique and fearless writer, which is not to say that she writes without fear. I can’t imagine you can write this close to the bone without fear, but she writes through it, reaches the other side of an intensely personal journey and offers up, in the wake of it all, a singular literary achievement.
Reading The Chronology of Water, I was instantly riveted, then shaken, then filled unexpectedly with hope and a very real reluctance to reach the end. It was an amazing book, but I’m not writing a review of Yuknavitch’s memoir. This post is about me, a writer reading a fearless work, feeling dazed and dazzled and, all the while, uncomfortably aware of my own writing, the risks I haven’t taken, the depths I haven’t plumbed.
They say (and they are right) that the best writers read. A lot. Most of the time, when I read an excellent book, it only makes me want to write more. I’m inspired by the gifted writers I read, but every now and then, a writer comes along who is so good, so different and challenging and precise and brave, I feel my own limitations. I think to myself, “This is so good. I could never write this.”
The truth is, I’m always surprised when I react like that, when the amazing work of a talented writer leaves me feeling inadequate instead of inspired. I don’t know why that happens, but I know that it shouldn’t. What I need to take away from Yuknavitch’s book is a determination to write braver, to explore my edges, to play with ideas and language and form because it’s fun, and because somewhere in all that freedom, I believe there is magic… and the stories only I can write.
What do you think? Do you ever feel intimidated by the writers you admire? How easy is it for to explore your own edges, to try something new, to write brave?
JUDY CLEMENT WALL is a freelance writer and Course Presenter for the Fear of Writing Online Course. Her short stories and personal essays have been published in numerous literary journals and on some very cool websites like The Rumpus, Used Furniture Review and Beyond The Margins. She recently finished her first novel, BEAUTIFUL LIVES, and here at FoW, she chronicles the ups and downs of writing for publication. You can read more of her series here. Judy blogs about life, love, writing and cheesecake at Zebra Sounds.