Jane Ratcliffe | Longreads | March 2020 | 15 minutes (3,519 words)
Lidia Yuknavitch’s disquieting new collection of short stories, Verge, is often bleak, yet also exquisitely hopeful. Her characters, largely women, are on the edge of death, humiliation, relocation, mercy, self-harm — as well as a new kinship with themselves.
In “The Pull,” two sisters flee their war-torn country. When their raft falters far from a safe shore, the sisters know their strong swimmer bodies are the only way to save both themselves and the “family of strangers” onboard with them. The young girl in “The Organ Runner” is transporting black-market human organs when she’s confronted with saving the life of a “donor,” who is a former bully. The woman in search of “the most perfect wound” in “A Woman Signifying” carefully, gloriously, burns her face on the radiator. These stories are taut and precise; at times like fairy tales in their measured yet majestic scope. They are hard punches and sweetheart hugs, somehow as one.
Yuknavitch often wiggles into those dark spaces so many of us prefer to avoid. Take her memoir The Chronology of Water, which opens with the stillbirth of her daughter and carries us, with unflinching intimacy, through physical and sexual abuse as well as drug and alcohol addiction. The Small Backs of Children delves into the brutal aftermath of war. And The Book of Joan depicts a decimated Earth with a pod of now-sexless humans living in a hodgepodge space station and carving stories into their own skin.
And yet there is beauty. Dazzling beauty. This Yuknavitch never lets us forget.
Her self-generated motto is “make art in the face of fuck” — meaning the harder the world becomes, the more we need to create art of any sort. And the upside of a lot of fuck these days is that we’re graced with more of Yuknavitch’s.
We spoke over Skype about different ways of communicating, the end of the hero, and how women can harness their anger. Read more…