Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hard to Admit and Harder to Escape by Sarah Manguso

This is the book that has alienated me from the library. I’ve kept it so long that I am sure there is a note in my file that, even after it is safely returned and the massive fine paid, will prohibit me from ever borrowing books of which there are only one copy in the system ever again.

It is this type of thinking that Hard to Admit and Harder to Escape inspires, and while normally I avoid catastrophizing, in order to remain a few steps away from a pit of despair, Manguso makes it almost enjoyable.

This small book of flash fiction, or prose poetry or fractured semi-autobiographical memoir, or whatever is filled with reflections on a short life lived unwell. By allowing the stories to be titled by numbers only, she creates a feeling of order, a purposeful autopsy of past events. The stories settings’ jump around in time from nursery school to college to a woodsy, cold cabin at a writer’s retreat, and Manguso set these scenes, as if by magic, in only a few words. The narrator’s voice is fully realized in its singularity and ability to find ugliness everywhere, especially inside her. Here’s a taste:

From “1”: “I want to keep myself alive so I can commit further injustices against myself, the self who has already committed such injustices against me.”

From “28”: “I find myself among unhappy people.”

From “33:” “I’m disturbed by my friends anger but more disturbed that the rules have changed, and that the change somehow escaped my notice.”

From “9,” after seeing a nursery schoolmate spill milk on herself and then getting scolded for laughing: “I study my feelings, but they are unsatisfyingly vague. I think it is a fine start, at least, to understanding what it is to be bad.”

You get the feeling that you wouldn’t want to spend time with this person, ever, so why would I recommend spending the short time it takes to read this book? Because Manguso spins these like nightmare-inducing bedtime tales and we all need to be reminded sometimes of the toll anger, fear and over-introspection can take.

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