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Close to the Bone: Memoirs of Hurt, Rage, and Desire

Close to the Bone: Memoirs of Hurt, Rage, and Desire

by Laurie Stone (Editor), Laura Hammond Hough (Designed by)

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Close to the Bone scouts the territories of sex, the family, loneliness, the city, addiction, and AIDS, but these are not passive tales of victimization. Rather, these writers speak in voices that are unflinching, unerring, and filled with revelation.


Close to the Bone scouts the territories of sex, the family, loneliness, the city, addiction, and AIDS, but these are not passive tales of victimization. Rather, these writers speak in voices that are unflinching, unerring, and filled with revelation.

Editorial Reviews

Willamette Week
Especially haunting is the input of Terminator....His precocious insights illustrate why Close to the Bone -- and memoirs in general -- can be so affecting: the traumas of life, turned like clay in the hands of a skillful artisan, can sometimes be sculpted into new forms, illuminating truths previously hidden.
Laura Green

In her introduction to Close to the Bone: Memoirs of Hurt, Rage and Desire, anthologist Laurie Stone celebrates the fact that "we no longer require that writers mask their stories as fiction in order to tell them." Stone's implication -- that novels are merely personal history too cowardly to appear under its correct name -- does an injustice to both genres. Dostoevski was not a nihilistic murderer who thought he'd better hide his transgressions under the name of Raskolnikov; Crime and Punishment is an act of sympathetic imagination, not a lie. The fact that a memoir asserts its "reality" does not guarantee that the emotions it describes will always ring true. In Close to the Bone, for example, Jerry Stahl writes of his crack addiction: "Maybe I needed to break through the barrier of my own self-loathing, sink into some other region where ... I was shit in front of the world." Not every reader will experience a frisson of identification with this prosaic insight.

The anthology's eight pieces are bound together by a theme common in both fiction and memoir: the chasm between our desire for unconditional love and the slim chances of finding it. If we look to our parents for such love, then, on the evidence of these pieces, failure is certain. Parenting in these tales ranges from the sadistic to the rejecting to the neglectful. In an essay titled "Baby Doll," for example, a writer named Terminator recounts, in vivid snatches, his desperate seduction of his abusive mother's boyfriend: "I feel the tearing and remember the feeling from the last time. He was a cowboy, [my mother] was passed out, and I had to get stitches from a local doctor he knew."

Even in less violent pieces, maternal rejection is a constant. Stone's "Hump" connects her mother's coldness with her own childlessness and the failures of her intimate relationships. The powerful sexuality of Catherine Texier's mother in "My Father's Picture" leaves little room for her daughter's needs. Neglect, meanwhile, is the domain of fathers, as in Lois Gould's mordant analysis of her father's misogyny in "Businessman," or Phillip Lopate's confrontation with the decaying body of his misanthropic sire in "The Story of My Father." These narratives are insightful and affecting, but they made me wish it were easier to forget or forgive our parents' failures.

Close to the Bone, Stone says, "draws fuel from the erotics of knowledge." If "eros" implies pleasure, however, then little about these narratives is erotic. It's not just that sex is represented as aggressive and joyless. Close to the Bone delineates a world in which friendship, political solidarity, spirituality -- all the communal structures human beings do, somehow, manage to produce -- are absent, their place taken by a vague lyricism, as in Jane Creighton's "Brother": "I reach for bodies, a father and a mother alive, caressing voices, the chatter of children growing out of themselves and into something else ..." The depressing implication of Close to the Bone is that no amount of "reaching for bodies" can overcome the individual's isolation in a solipsistic world. -- Salon

New York Times Book Review
Small gems of the form....Engaging, often powerful writing is [this anthology's] common denominator....A substantial collection.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A collection of works by different authors is likely to show inconsistencies, but the bright spots offered by these eight writers far outweigh the rough edges. With examples of what she calls "post-therapeutic memoir," Stone (Laughing in the Dark: A Decade of Subversive Comedy) has gathered a group of writers whose specialty is voyeuristic views into the lives of the desperate, depraved and drugged. Graphic descriptions of sex, illness and addiction punctuate these first-person essays, only three of which are reprints, but life's agonies and injustices are more effectively drawn here in the kind of quiet tones seldom seen by the Oprah generation. Phillip Lopate's "The Story of My Father" provides a heartbreaking review of old age and failed lives from the inside of a nursing home; Lois Gould's "Businessman" treats the story of her dying father with similar elegance and restraint; Peter Trachtenberg's handle on sarcasm brings humor to a failed love affair in "I Kiss Her Good-bye." In striving so earnestly to be brave and frank, some of these memoirs are merely annoying. But most--Jerry Stahl's "Pipe to the Head" is one of the best insider's views of the drug culture this decade--serve to recommend this growing genre even to the easily startled. (Oct.)
Kirkus Reviews
On the crest of the ongoing memoir wave comes the inevitable anthologization of "personal" essays, in this grouping of eight diverse pieces edited and with an introduction by Nation theater critic Stone (Laughing in the Dark, p. 1095).

Stone's excellent introduction, which addresses the memoir in our time and the culture of confession and recovery, reminds us why she is one of our most valued critics. Saying that she is suspicious of the genre and conscious of its pitfalls, she registers her respect for those writers who have "mined self-knowledge and come clean with the goods," who "retrieve themselves through language, lofting out of the murk of closeted secrets with the ordering instrument of candor." For her selections here she says she wanted material that was relatively unexplored in literature, and so here mixes "daylit tales and fringescapes." Fringescapes, indeed. Phillip Lopate's quiet, extended reflection on his father, who lives in a nursing home, is a tame piece of storytelling as presented here alongside Jane Creighton's hothouse story of sibling incest, the 17-year-old writer named Terminator's graphic depictions of sexual abuse, Stone's own provocative descriptions of her experiences with bedroom dominance and submission, and Jerry Stahl's exhilarating picaresque of running wild and whacked with crackheads. Also included are father-portraits by Lois Gould and Catherine Texier, who describes her mother the French tart, and her meeting over lunch, as a grown woman, of the man previously present only at her conception.

This book gathers much fine work, but is mainly for serious readers of autobiographical writing and admirers of writing "on the edge."

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Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
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5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.50(d)

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