The Chronology of Water

by mickharris


Yuknavitch takes you firmly and tenderly by the nape of the neck and redefines what it means to tell a life story.

Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water is changing my life, and my writing.  This woman barrels into you out of nowhere with fierceness, love and unapologetic truth, and she’s got the literary and creative chops to make miracles happen.  Her “memoir”, though I tend to hate that word, focuses on her entire life, from birth and early swimming in the clutches of her alcoholic mother and apoplectic, abusive father, to her eventual marriage, son, writing and rebirth as a full person.  Along the way she drinks heavily, shoots up, fucks anyone and everyone, loves, writes with Ken Kesey, fights, breaks shit and keeps swimming through her mercurial and often heartbreaking life.  Yuknavitch does not apologize for what she does, however.  This is not a confessional.

Instead, what she finds is the power to love her mother despite her inability to save her children and a modicum of peace in dealing with her father, who eventually loses his memory after he almost drowns in the ocean and becomes a different man from the harsh, tyrannical patriarch who pushes his daughter down a hill on a bike she’s never ridden before, day after day, convinced she’ll learn through fear and trial.  He beats, he yells, he stifles and he tries to control his daughters’ futures.  One runs away and appears sporadically through the text, supporting Yuknavitch through some very dark trials, while the narrator is left to escape via a swimming scholarship to Texas, where she later loses the opportunity, drops out and spends some notable evenings underneath overpasses with her pants around her ankles, drugged to oblivion.

The reader does not get the sense from these episodes that the narrator is bulletproof, however, or that there’s inordinate pride in these experiences.  They simply happen – the narrator chooses them at specific times in her life because…she tries to feel, she tries to forget?  It depends on the situation.  It’s very real and told with a teenager’s sly pride in being a rebel as well as a woman who’s been through endless rage and decides to write to save herself from the inevitable future her parents claimed for themselves.

This book is fucking phenomenal, and it’s shown me that I don’t need to write just from the physical or just from the cerebral spaces I inhabit in regards to my pain.  Yuknavitch is a master of seamless weaving of physical presence and self-conscious prose, blending the process of writing a story and rewriting it for an audience with the immediate visceral reality of her life.  She moves into the past and the present like a swimmer cuts through the water, rhythmic, splashing, but above all moving somewhere, taking you with her as she shows you how she and her family and her writing were able to craft a real life out of a lot of shit.  The Chronology of Water is an utter powerhouse, and everyone I know should be reading this book right now, and when they’re done they should flip it over, admire the gorgeous natural body of the woman on the cover, go somewhere in public and relish her delicious, comforting, explosive words all over again.