on March 16, 2011
Beyond its clear, dazzling lyrical passages, beyond its fierce energy and unending optimism, there is so much to say about this confessional, bravely written memoir, and you can be sure that The Chronology of Water is an important book. Its themes -- womanhood, motherhood, stillbirth, women's reproductive rights, bisexuality, love and fatherhood, promiscuity and sexual violence, drug and alcohol abuse, sorrow and grief, hope, and survival -- are cultural and political talking points, significant because these issues ought to be discussed and must be heard. That Lidia Yuknavitch is brave enough to begin these discussions with her readers is well worth applauding, and I think it would be a shame and an oversight to think anything less of the importance, and relevance, of this book.
on January 10, 2014
I might've liked this book when I was 15. It reads like it was written by a 15 year old. Here, let me tell it to you straight no chaser (if you think this is a clever turn of phrase, good news! It'll appear repeatedly in the book): I was so disappointed it made me angry.
I can deal with stories that are all style, no substance––as long as it's good style. The frustrating thing here is that there is obviously a ton of substance to be found in Yuknavitch's life but she tries too hard to play word games which aren't half as new or interesting as she thinks they are. The genuinely touching moments get lost in all that static. She proudly proclaims that she's a "weird" writer ("'Experimental' sounds dumb, and 'Innovative' sounds strangely snooty") who likes to break the rules of language, but none of that creativity is displayed here. It's not experimental and definitely not innovative to use the same tired, cliché phrase over and over again in a >300 page book, but I guess it could be weird. Or lazy. Or maybe just bad writing.
There are … dramatic pauses that would make any adolescent diarist proud. They happen … quite often. There are lots of run-on sentences I mean it's to convey the urgency and the wonder and the breathtaking beauty and drama and the whole everything of everything of it all but you know when it happens so often and watch out here's a wordbond I just made up wow isn't that cool and edgy and awesome and really my point is that after a while these blocks of text get exhausting and not in a good way. They lose their effect and it becomes a chore to slog through them.
I admire women who are fearless enough to be their true selves, but there's something simultaneously amusing and deeply offensive about Yuknavitch's self-righteous indignation at being fired from her teaching position for having an affair with one of her graduate students. According to her, it is un-feminist to be critical of her actions here. She has a valid grievance in the hypocrisy of being judged when blind eyes are turned for male professors who routinely have affairs with their female students, but instead, her anger reads more like the worst of Choice Feminism. She's in love with this man and is carrying his child. So what if he's her student! So what if he's married! If we're not dancing in the halls in celebration with her, we are clearly not feminists.
Overall, Chronology of Water reads less like a book and more like a blog, and not even a very good one at that. Imagine the whitest, most obnoxious posts on Jezebel. Now turn it into a memoir.
on March 17, 2011
This book is not pretty. It does not talk about an eating disorder. You will not like the protagonist/voice. This book knows no redemption. Finally, a book that can tell you what the world feels like on your nerves. This book tells you what it feels feels like to be a woman, to have a body that is as electric, as alive as any man's. This book is so spectacular in its ordinariness, it will give you permission to be so too. If you want to read a memoir that won't spoon feed you society's rhetoric on why good girls go bad, why girls eat their feelings, or try not to screw their feelings away, then read this. Read this book if you've ever felt ugly, or did things that were ugly. Read this book if you are lonely. Read this book because if you do not have the words for what happened to you, maybe Lidia Yuknavitch does.
on July 30, 2013
This book has an exceptional amount of hype surrounding it. Having supposedly created a new category labeled "Anti-Memoir," I had some reasonably high expectations for this work.
If you take any kind of creative writing classes, or study literature at the college level you will already be familiar with the push toward legitimizing creative non-fiction memoirs. On a fundamental level I'm not really interested in that debate. If someone's writing can hold my attention, entertain, and get me to engage with their text, I'm on board. Fiction, poetry, non-fiction, or mix genre. Good writing stands on its own and transcends any genre. However, the prose in "The Chronology of Water" is premeditated and forced. It reads like any other self-obsessed MFA non-fiction essay awaiting rejection in a lit mag slush pile. It's another example of how this genre is failing to launch.
On a line level the prose is highly pretentious and indulges in narcissistic self-aware faux avant-garde technique applied ad naseum. I'm all for a poignant fragment, but technique applied without reason or restraint renders the attempts into literary gimmicks (e.g. artsy-fartsy nonsense). At the line-level the book will drive an attentive reader bonkers. Anyone foreign to the MFA artsy-fartsy culture will just think there are a lot of typos and bad editing.
Which perhaps could be forgiven if the substance were weighty enough. Frankly, I feel that Yuknavitch is an unreliable narrator of her own life. I certainly don't believe in the truth of this memoir part and parcel. I believe only in Yuknavitch's desire to shock and awe the reader at any cost. All the up-close and personal details feel pimped and slimy. The events are not so much exposed and explored as they are posed and marketed. In the age of internet porn, no one has the luxury of being a prude anymore. Yuknavitch's silly sex details read like teen swaggering, which would be condemned as excessive if this were written by a male, but Yunavitch insists it is all sexy and empowering because she's a woman. The former bad-girl turned house kitten Ph.D. recounts what a naughty slut she once was. Sexual? Yes. Sexy? Not even close.
Read any of the prurient passages and transpose the gender and then ask yourself if you'd read the same thing from a male. I'd then invite you to ask yourself if parroting a braggart legacy of misogyny is really empowering to anyone, male or female. And you can offer the rebuttal "Oh but it's a memoir, she's just recounting her life." But I don't buy it, and that comes down to a question of credibility. Yuknavitch guts her own credibility at every turn. Non-fiction requires a fundamental devotion to the truth and Yuknavitch's tendency toward self-aggrandizing hyperbole left me in disbelief.
It's hard to not judge when reading a memoir, especially one that is so intent on not asking for your permission or forgiveness. I'm not really interested in condemning Yuknavitch. I don't want to be anyone's moral nanny. I believe women can be just as narcissistically self-destructive as any man. What I condemn is the boredom of it all. How does Yuknavitch afford her Rock `n Roll lifestyle? At the expense of the safety, sobriety, and sanity of everyone around her and after ruining other people's lives, she publishes an unabashed memoir of her exploits. Alcoholism, narcissism, and sex-addiction served straight with no chaser of complexity quickly becomes an easily dismissed, salaciously boring read.
In the last few essays Yuknavitch seems to sense this and goes all mushy, which I didn't find redemptive, believable, or satisfying either. It reads more like selling out. The transformation from hard-edged selfish addict to deep-thinking literary snob is not shown, it's told - and again, I just don't believe it. Yuknavitch doesn't pick herself up off the floor and straighten out her own life. No, she looks into the eyes of her married lover and when he tells her he wants her to have his baby - Whoomp There It Is! - She's done been saved by a man's redemptive love (insert Disney desperate lack-of-agency female chorus here). At every turn I feel the authenticity of experience is withheld, my trust as a reader trampled, and my time wasted.
I once heard a tragedy defined as a story where characters come close to transcending circumstances but fail to grow and live up to their potential. In that sense, this memoir, its prose and its "protagonist" are a real tragedy. This has that current buzz on it, where a lot of people are discussing the book - so by all means read it if you want to participate in that dialog, but don't believe the hype.
on December 12, 2012
Lidia Yuknavitch's, The Chronology of Water, is about a woman who has an abusive father, a suicidal mother, and despite her challenges at home, is a promising swimmer who receives a scholarship and goes on to compete at college level. While away from home for the first time, she goes wild. This novel is about a woman who has embraced past issues, embraced herself, and candidly talks about her mistakes. Her message is clear as she tells the world that life is messy and everyone has their own issues, just on different levels.
Yuknavitch has this way of standing outside of herself as she questions her-self destructive ways. It sometimes seems like she is writing from a third person point of view; looking at herself objectively without trying to justify her actions or sugar-coat her behavior. This gives her writing a boldness I can appreciate. Her personality shouts from the page and as I read this memoir, I can actually picture her talking. I can almost see her gestures and demeanor as she tells her story. Lidia Yuknavitch is like one of those friends who make you pause in amazement and say, "I can't believe she said that."
Yuknavitch skillfully uses metaphor with water throughout this novel. Passages like, "There are many ways to drown" (123), and "Knee deep in the water of our lives" (128) resonate with me, but when she shifts from a woman in pain who is dealing with past issues to a wild woman describing her sexual experiences, her voice changes. These stark contrasts are jolting in certain areas and change the tone of the memoir from profound to raunchy. Even so, I would still recommend this as a good read. Energetic, humorous, sad, and moving; Lidia Yuknavitch's memoir will keep you immersed.
on May 27, 2014
I really loved this book. I had a hard time putting it down. It is very raw. It does grate on the nerves at times. It sometimes made me feel extremely uncomfortable. But I laughed a lot and cried a lot while reading this book. I felt it reached me in a way most books don't. While the stories are hers, the emotions she is able to evoke belong to all of us.
I noticed there are quite a few terrible reviews about this book on Amazon. I suspect those people haven't had horrible things happen to them, done horrible things themselves, and then came out the other side more compassionate and forgiving of themselves and others. Maybe they have done everything right in their lives and have no need for the cleansing experience of allowing an artist to help them dredge up all the ways we feel and have felt, reminding us to experience feelings more deeply and in a wider range of colors, depths, and textures, and to be more alive.
Minus one star for bad editing. There were some irritating spelling/grammar/typo issues in this book. Usually that bugs me more, but I loved the book so much I tried to overlook it. Maybe they will clean it up for the next edition.
on October 22, 2014
You know that feeling when you stand in front of a piece of abstract art--say a giant blue square. And everyone around you is remarking about the genius of it, the subtlety, the nuance, the provocative nature of that particular shade of blue--and all you are thinking is, "Oh. My. God. This is bulls***." That's what I was thinking as I was reading this book.
The fairly enlightened women in my book club selected this tome, so in a way, I was forced to read it. The first question I posed to the group was "Is anyone else having trouble connecting to, or caring about this woman?" Apparently they were not. I believe they may have been blinded by her particular shade of blue to notice that she is a self destructive, other's destructive name dropping narcissistic psychopath who barfs all over the page and consequently all over the reader.
No, Lidia, I am not impressed with your run-on sentences and words all smashed together in the "I know the rules, so I'm allowed to break them" style. No, Lidia, I am not impressed with your Unchronological storytelling that reads as if chunks of this book were written decades apart. No, Lidia, I am not impressed that you are 'brave enough' to tell your story honestly. In fact, I don't think you are honest, and that you are still side-stepping your pain by using literary device and writing razzle dazzle.
I'm going to read it to the end (and I'm a little angry about that), if for no other reason than to be able to knowledgeably argue the points outlined above to my book group. I'm two-thirds of the way in and am waiting to see if the author redeems herself and has some kind of personal transformation or revelation that could in any way indicate a reason that she wrote this, other than, "Lookit me. I'm in your face."
I see you. You don't have any clothes on. So what.
*Edited to add that I begrudgingly finished the book and was left even more disturbed to find that, in fact, the author does not redeem herself. Amazingly, she goes on to commit more terrible acts...nearly committing vehicular manslaughter (of a pregnant woman to boot), and sleeping with a younger MARRIED grad student. For these acts, she shows no remorse. In the case of the pregnant woman, there is a moment in which she is waiting on the guard rail with the poor woman--Lydia, bombed off her *ss on a fifth of whiskey--instead of feeling awful, writes "In my head I thought take me away from this woman. I can't be near her. I can't even accept that she exists. The image of a grieving woman is one that could kill me."
Kill YOU? YOU nearly killed her!
You would think that she would go back and revisit that moment during a time of self-reflection, but no. She goes on to describe her forced community service--picking up trash on the highway, waxing on poetic about she bonded with the Man Criminals and tossing in a disturbing image of a passed-out bum with swollen genitals, but nothing, NOTHING about how she felt about her crime or the woman she nearly killed.
I could go on, but I've devoted enough time to this.
Another reviewer claimed to have felt the same way I did about the book and had left it behind on the plane. I'm not sure I want an innocent person picking it up and reading it. My copy will probably go in the river. One plus of this book is that it was printed in Portland, Oregon and is therefore likely biodegradable.
on December 25, 2014
Incredible read! I have never read writing that is more beautiful, poetic, and profound. It is so rich, with words used in ways I have never seen or felt as deeply. This is a memoir that deals a lot with grief and sexual abuse. Sexual abuse that leads to severe overemphasis of the body. Lidia Yuknavitch's abuse at the hand of her father leads her down a path of extreme sexualization of her body. At times I did not know if I could read any further as the sex was so descriptive, so evocative, and massively out of control. Yet, I hung in there because this book simply would not let me go.
At an early age Lidia's father throws her into an icy lake to teach her to swim. This begins her life as a swimmer and her deep connection to water. It is her early escape and influences her life forever. Her writing is steeped in connections to it. It is through water that she loses herself and later finds herself. It showed me how sexual abuse leaves one with no self, and the journey to find that self is treacherous. I simply cannot due this book justice with my review other than to say it affected me deeply, and the author has laid herself bare, a truly heroic act.
on January 1, 2012
I've never written a review before, but this book moved me profoundly. It is one of the most powerful demonstrations of the craft of writing that I have ever encountered. I think you will find it to be one of the truest memoirs you've ever read. She tells us exactly what made her who she is, good and bad. When you finish this book you will know her life.
If you are not comfortable with explicit sexuality you should avoid this book. No judgement, it's just that the sexuality is integral to the story, and if that makes you uncomfortable you should not even start reading it.
on March 17, 2011
When I read Lidia's work, I am amazed by the beauty, the wisdom, the intelligence of every word stroke.
I'm filled with life, pleasure, and excitement.
I want to buy 700 copies and give them out to young girls in search of their voice, in search of their image, and in search of a strong women. I want to thank Lidia for providing the words and spaces between those words to find comfort and understanding and self worth.
Lidia's self expression of wisdom, love, and insight. Her voice is almost difficult to find among a culture that tells women to hide behind their lack of intelligence. Lidia is raw, in your face. And it's amazing. I want to read her passages on a box outsides of malls. I want to sing holy holy after chapter one. I want to put it under my pillow in search of comfort and wisdom. I want to put a copy of this memoir at the hymns of every baptist church. I want to copy each page with stencils and recite them like poems to my grandchildren. I want to paint the pages on a canvass across France. I want to become a missionary and provide this book to every red state in the south.
I want everyone to experience these memoirs so they can seek understanding. I want my enemies to experience these memoirs so they can seek love and beauty.
Reading Lidia for the first time is like getting your hair pulled while you get a back rub. You'll never forget it and you'll always want to read it again and again.