Nothing is more soothing, all-embracing or threatening than water when you’re immersed in it, and immersion is very much the theme of a book coming out in April that I consider to be very important.
As a follow-up to my reconsideration of the play The Vagina Monologues and the sense of cultural fatigue with the gender divide that we may all be feeling, acknowledged or not, it occurred to me that one of the things I’m most satisfied about over the last few years (it makes me feel like I’ve finally grown up) is that there’s now a hearty and divergent corps of contemporary female writers whose work speaks to me without any PC strain.
By contemporary, I mean women my own age or thereabouts. Of course I admire Margaret Atwood and Ursula K. LeGuin—and who doesn’t admire Flannery O’Conner, Katherine Anne Porter, Djuna Barnes and the scorchingly hot Clarice Lispector (it’s all right to get aroused by women writers by the way—we’re bringing that back). But it’s another level of delight in reading and in life, to feel connection with the other half of the species who are “of one’s own vintage.”
From National Book Award finalist Joan Wickersham, to Oprah Book Club bestseller Janet Fitch—to some fire-in-the-hole emerging writers (remember the name Jennifer Breukelaar…she’s going to rip it up), I now have some points of inspiration that I didn’t have ten years ago.
Take the crazy 7-11 era neo-horror writer Gina Ranalli (even her name sounds like a party I want to go to…or the Bay Area poet Joan Stepp Smith (find me a more accomplished naturally eccentric word fetishist writing in English)…to some startling foreign talents like Budy Utamy, who lives in Sumatra and even in translation electrifies…I’ve got some new sources of energy I’m grateful for.
But one of the female writers I’m most taken by is actually one whose work I’ve known for a while, but who just keeps getting tuffer, Lidia Yuknavitch.
Her latest work, a memoir, is a must read, a work of the heart, but without any of that glossy women’s mag tremor of the lip: The Chronology of Water from Hawthorne Books.
In person, Yuknavitch has the poised and forceful animal presence of the athlete—which is exactly what she was. A committed, highly competitive swimmer, who lost her way and found a new way, swimming through a tangle of family debris and personal drug crises to become a respected writer, editor, publisher and a definer of a new kind of femininity that does the hard trick of both empowering women and engaging men. (Oh, and she knows how to laugh too.)
If you’re going to read one new memoir this year, The Chronology of Water should be on your list.
Some women are bringing back women. The water is bubbling again. A bit of splashing never hurt anyone—and it’s actually why we’re all here.