Book Review: “The Chronology of Water: A Memoir”

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The opening scene in The Chronology of Water: A Memoir by Lidia Yuknavitch, where her daughter emerges stillborn, plunges the reader directly into the themes: life and death, bound so fluidly together with water. This book is a maze of memories mirroring the true, unedited mind. Both stirring and disturbing, the author’s unique voice will lock you into a dialogue, sharing something universal: pain.

The trauma in Yuknavitch’s life is shaking and so is her candid nature. Without reserve, she questions how memories feed the present, and whether or not her recollections are accurate—something we all wonder in reflection. But she takes this further. After describing particular situations in detail, Yuknavitch admits to falsehood. This is rare in non-fiction, but’s forgiven as a feature of the author’s inventive style.

Words, like “screamsong,” phrases, such as “jumped from the train of things,” and repetitions minus traditional punctuation and spacing, like “speedspeedspeedspeed,” all mix to create a refreshing voice with a slap-you-in-the-face quality. A quality that heightens when the author describes the joy of swimming all day, everyday at age 6, in one sentence that stretches 14 lines. The feeling produced is one of breathlessness. Like that of being submerged for too long.

This long-windedness almost becomes an issue in the chapter “Distilled,” with a 32-line sentence. But broken boundaries are easily pardoned, as she’s in an alcohol/drug-induced haze throughout the passage, and the overall style of the piece is so consistently F-U.

Very few authors could get away what Yuknavitch does. Very few should even try. It’s a piece that will not appeal to all. But for women who’ve struggled with grief, inside this story is a fluidity that’s so real it sets preconceived notions apart, without apology, and asks you to just sit with yourself.

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