At first, it might seem strange that I've grouped these two books together: one a memoir and the other a work of fiction. When I found out that Cheryl Strayed and Lidia Yuknavitch were in the same writing group, however, I knew it was the right choice for presenting these reviews. Both women live in Oregon and write unabashedly (not to mention beautifully) about sex, love, and the female body. Torch also borders on memoir (many have called it autobiographical fiction) and The Chronology of Water is disjointed enough to feel like a hybrid fiction text. So... yes.
Torch is Strayed's first book and features a lot of the same themes that appear in her acclaimed memoir Wild. The novel is told from four different perspectives and follows the story of Claire, her brother Joshua, and their step father Bruce as each character comes to terms with the cancer diagnosis and eventual death of Teresa, the much beloved matriarch of the family. Bonds are tested and torn apart as the characters choose to deal with the fallout in their own (largely) self-destructive ways: from sex with a married man, to selling drugs, to jumping into a hurtful new romantic relationship. Time works in interesting ways throughout the novel, skipping large chunks from chapter to chapter as we rotate between the main cast of characters. Overall, it was a beautiful read—favoring gritty reality over neat literary metaphors in its exploration of grief, family dynamics, and healing.
The Chronology of Water is much harder for me to sum up succinctly. The memoir deals so much with the body: with sex and stillbirth and abuse and healing. The centralizing theme is Yuknavitch's connection to water, a thread that starts with swimming as a child and carries all the way to releasing her daughter's ashes into the sea. The narrative is told out of order and holds an almost ethereal quality. It is frank while remaining poetic, feeling complete and fulfilling despite the fact that the truths it reveals are often amorphous and blurry. Buy it. Read it. Consume It. Be baptized by it.