I can’t review this book. How can I review something that’s embedded itself into me–like an axe that’s gone through my belly and bisected my spine–how can I review my self? Myself/my self. I write it like they’re separate things, my and self–but the whole point is that they aren’t separate, that I’m myself, and The Drowning Girl: A Memoir (by Caitlin Kiernan) is now a part of me.
First, my attempt at a book review: Imp is a girl who is crazy, as was her mother and her mother’s mother and (maybe) so was her mother’s mother’s mother’s sister “who kept dead birds and mice in stoppered glass jars lined up on all her windowsills.”* Imp’s story is a love story and a ghost story–which is the same thing, you’ll learn. She falls in love with Eva Canning, the drowning girl she finds naked on the side of the road in July (or was it November? Imp doesn’t know; she met Eva twice for the first) and finds a haunting for herself–a haunting that I found for myself.
And this memoir’s haunting is alive, because it sprawls beyond its own pages, saturates the world–its world, my world (the squid in the butcher’s display today at work made me think of a mermaid with marine life in her hair). As I read, I constantly wanted to look into all these painters and writers Imp constantly refers to and collects clippings of–did Caitlin Kiernan fashion them for Imp’s haunting? In part? Completely? I still want to look them up, but I can’t. Because whether or not this novel is factual, it is true. Maybe Kiernan did craft these people, but now that they’re a part of my own haunting, they are true and real. The factual doesn’t matter to me, right now.
So, Imp has her haunting–Eva, the girl who was left on the shore when her mother and her mother’s cult stepped into the water and drowned themselves (Eva’s own haunting). And I have mine–my ghost: my empty stomach, my (old) anorexia. But is this really what drew me to the book? Sometimes I think that’s not it at all, sometimes I know it’s not it. There’s the way Imp plays with, and dissects, and rebuilds and separates words and numbers in just the way I do, but it’s not that either.
A couple years back: I’m trying to redefine myself–or at least, the way I see myself. Coming to terms with mybody, mybelly, myskin myflesh. Sometimes, I’ll read the word slender, or phrases like her legs like reeds rattling and think I can make myself that. I think so don’t eat that. Wait, wait. Skip a meal. I use words to define myself, shape myself. But they were all the same words (different-same)–so I decided: why not choose a new word. I chose wild. I chose feral. Canine. Strong. I began to think of my body as something that could survive apocalypses. A body that can feed itself for a bit while it goes out hunting.
This relates because the Eva Canning that Imp met (for the first time) in November was a wolf. As a kid, I never wanted a pony. I wanted a wolf. I don’t have a totem or a spirit animal, but sometimes, I am a wolf. Not always. But when I want to eat, I am.
Should you read this book? Yes. Yes yes yes. That is, if you want to face the bone saw in your hand. Like how I’m looking at my anorexia. How we once were, how we sometimes (all too often) still are.
For a more coherent, intelligent review of this book, visit Brit Mandelo‘s piece on Tor.com.
*The Drowning Girl: A Memoir, page 4
Books read, 2013 (a–probably–incomplete list):
Prince of Thorns
Wonders of the Invisible World
Travels through Middle Earth, the path of a Saxon pagan
The Drowning Girl: A Memoir