The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch

“I believe in art the way other people believe in god.”

Lidia Yuknavitch, what can I say about her writing to inspire others to read her novels, memoirs and the essays, including the Misfit Manifesto? I only just came across her and am amazed to find out how much she has published, where she teaches and the life she has lead. How did I not discover her earlier?

Yuknavitch writes with confidence. The Chronology of Water is provocative and evocative, told with authority. Her style is a unique and playful use of space with broken up lines and pages, with sentences running on, or short and sharp; she uses all kinds of form to bring us along. We trust her. We follow her words, they move so easily across memories and empathy for the woman she was, for the people in her life, our hearts open up.

In this memoir, Yuknavitch talks of “when you swim back through your life” and how we all need to find our own tribe and family. Her advice is to “make up stories until you find one that you can live with. Make up stories as if your life depended on it.”

Sentences such as these hold me weeks after reading the memoir. Her knowledge and advice comes from direct experiences of how there is no One Way to find a life that works for you – we all do it differently, and with this she offers us validation. To be true to ourselves.
How though? Well, her writing is as she admits “weird” and to call her books experimental and innovative doesn’t explain her own relationship with stories. She is indeed a “language bandit” and to call her otherwise implies she does this to get attention instead of being a reflex for her. Yuknavitch knows how to use structure, forms, conventions, look at her teaching and educational background and there’s no disputing the fact, she knows literature intimately. When she writes however, what comes out is fluid, unique, raw and poetic. She knows her craft.

At times The Chronology of Water is incredibly immersive and it’s her use of language and sentences that brings the reader deeply and unapologetically into the moment. The messy and emotional and visceral moment.

“Look, I’m not trying to creep you out. Or shock you. I’m trying to be precise. I’m just saying maybe healing looks different for women like me.”

When you pick up her book, be warned, you’re going swimming, going deep, you have to trust her. It’s not always pretty – didn’t I say that about her novel The Smallbacks of Children? Probably, I have a feeling I’ll warn you each time I recommend her books to you. A disclaimer of sorts. I’m okay with that.

The structure is simple in a way, easy to grasp hold of with five sections, each named with a role in swimming and drowning. Pay attention to the section names. The chapter titles are also pretty telling and often funny in a warped and honest way. Your Tax Dollars at Work follows her time on a clean-up crew after a DUI. Another chapter, About Hair and Skin, talks of how she’s collected snippets of hair, “When I get the chance to own hair of someone important to me, I leap forward a little too zealously.” By the end of that short little chapter, how hair is used to cover shame or to remind her of love, you are fully with her when she writes of smelling her mother’s hair and crying.

For me, her work, The Chronology of Water and others, validates my own inclinations, rhythms and how memories and fiction form on the page. The narrative maps in my stories are echoes of writers such as Yuknavitch who gives me permission to write in a style that is true to me instead of staying within conventions for the wrong reasons.

It’s quite a rush to read her memoir, a headrush, bloodrush, taking you into your body, so read it fast, be thorough, scribble notes, and then put it aside. You’ll be back. Each time you come back to it you’ll notice something new, a new image or lyricism or thought that passed you by the last reading.

“This book? It’s for you. It’s water I made a path through. I’m not speaking out of my asshole when I say this. Come in. The water will hold you.”



The Chronology of Water

Lidia Yuknavitch

Hawthorne Book and Literary Arts,

Portland, OR

201 314 pp $16.95

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