I Love You but I've Chosen Darkness: A Novel
November 10, 2021 8:58 PM - Subscribe

L.A. Times: " “Darkness” is a collage of forms, what [author Claire Vaye Watkins] calls “pack rat fiction.” The first chapter is a postnatal depression questionnaire filled out with discursive irony. Letters written in the early 1970s by Claire’s mother, Martha, are allotted throughout, in reverse chronological order. The novel’s backbone is the story of Claire heading to Reno for a book event and taking nearly a year to get high and screw around and dip in hot springs and drop in on her grandma and shack up with two women in a junk-box cabin before she reunites with her husband and daughter, only to swear off convention for good." Excerpt, from Lit Hub.
posted by MonkeyToes (1 comment total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I wanted to like this. PPD, identity crisis, the questions of home and family, and the urge to blow up a settled life? Sold! I'm interested in this constellation of personal unrest, and willing to try "pack rat fiction." I'm not sure the relentless crawling backward--into the writings/recordings of each parent--worked for me, someone who did not have a relationship with these people. Fictional (?) Claire reads her mother's letters, and gets something from it; I read them and they're unmoored for me. Less so the story of her father's involvement with the Manson Family, but still--I can't fully access the intense experience Claire has because there's something missing. Maybe it is, in part, a function of the narrative voice--cool and distanced--but the mix of this coolness and the intimate, deeply personal search didn't resolve for me until the last few paragraphs of the book (the closest equivalent is probably the end of Ottessa Moshfegh's My Year of Rest and Relaxation). And it's told unevenly; some pieces of this are stronger than others, especially the portion of the book that gives it its name. I felt like she described her private reconciliation as some vivid hallucination--with several lovely passages--but one that was ultimately inaccessible to me. (It did make me think of Joan Didion's essay, "On Self Respect." Woman spontaneously chooses not to go home, instead pursues drugs and lovers and the past without justifying it to anyone, but rolls with the fallout through an unprincipled haze of memory and dumb luck. The reconciliation is sketched out, rather than reflected on. It's a recollection of existence but not an analytical, principled look at it? And felt hermetic rather than illuminating?) I think I appreciated this without liking it. I don't know, and I'm curious to see what other readers think.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:48 PM on November 15, 2021

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