My Body Is a Book of Rules), a creative writing professor at Ohio State, offers in this collection of tender reckonings “a book about how my heart was broken” and her attempts to heal it. Washuta recounts her struggles with sobriety, relationships, and the “tyrannical rule” of PTSD in her life. In search of healing, Washuta, a Native woman and occult enthusiast, examined the differences between “white magic” and misaligned, “malicious” black magic, and sought out “a version of the occult that isn’t built on plunder.” In “Little Lies,” Washuta reflects on a D.A.R.E. drunk-driving ad soundtracked by Fleetwood Mac and Phil Collins, and “The Spirit Cabinet” is an episodic collection of “synchronicities” often about her ex-boyfriend, featuring quotes from magician David Blaine. The most eloquent section highlights her grief moving through a world built on violence toward Native peoples: “I have lost my land, my language,” she writes. Her prose is crisp and precise, and the references hit spot-on (such as her fascination with the Sumerian goddess Inanna, who travels through the underworld, and with Twin Peaks, “a show about the unexplained, the mystical, and the cycles of violence and neglect to which women find themselves tethered”). Fans of the personal essay are in for a treat. Agent: Monika Woods, Triangle House. (Apr.)
"Yet another example of why Elissa Washuta is one of the most talented essay writers writing today. Moving, smart, and resonant, these intertwined pieces are brilliant."
"Nobody in the country uses more innovative nonfiction forms than Washuta."
"Washuta’s frank confrontations with, and acknowledgments of, unhealed wounds are validating. . . . evoking the sense of peeling open a letter from an estranged friend. A poignant work by a rising essayist."
Starred Review Foreword Reviews
"Beguiling and haunting. . . . Washuta's voice sears itself onto the skin."
The New York Times Book Review
"Remarkable. . . . Each essay is skillful at interweaving the personal and the historical—and on the whole, the collection is, well, magic."
"A funny, piercingly intelligent memoir. . . . Washuta is thoroughly gifted."
"As an essay collection,
White Magic is as beautifully complex as it is illuminating. Washuta is a conjurer here, able to effortlessly showcase her talents while simultaneously pulling you close, as if she might suddenly reveal all her secrets. She is a genius at the art of subtle misdirection. Reading this book felt like being shown an expertly performed magic trick: deftly, flawlessly. No loose threads revealed. The work is funny and wry, it's thought-provoking and tender. It's a sleight of hand performed by a true master of the craft. White Magic is magnificent and Elissa Washuta is spellbinding. There is no one else like her."
"In the end, it is not tarot cards but writing — the tedious but magical process of decoding and rebuilding with new tricks and spells — that proves to be the real magic."
Crosscut - Five PNW memoirs to read for Independent Bookstore Day 2021
"She interlaces stories from her Native forebears with cultural artifacts from her own life."
"Elissa Washuta is exactly the writer we need right now: as funny as she is formidable a thinker, as thoughtful as she is inventive—her scrutiny is a fearless tool, every subject whittled to its truest form.
White Magic is a bracingly original work that enthralled me in a hypnosis on the other side of which I was changed for the better, more likely to trust my own strange intelligence."
"Her unique voice as a Cowlitz woman who refuses to be contained by colonialism, sexism, and ableism will light a fire in any reader who is paying attention."
"Part history, part riddle, part portal: this book worked on me like a spell. I’ve never read anything like
White Magic, and will be returning to it again and again."
"These pages are windows into a black lodge where Twin Peaks and Fleetwood Mac are on repeat—sometimes forward, sometimes backwards, sometimes in blackout blur. I stand in awe of everything here. What an incredible and wounding read."
Refinery29 - 50 Books to Read in 2021
"You're going to feel like you’re drownfloating reading this diary of pain and meditation and wish for magic where every word helps Elissa Washuta’s soul return to her body.
White Magic is as haunting as the work of Beckylane’s Where The Rivers Join and as eerily hypnotic as Kate Schatz’s Rid of Me. These pages are windows into a black lodge where Twin Peaks and Fleetwood Mac are on repeat—sometimes forward, sometimes backwards, sometimes in blackout blur. I stand in awe of everything here. What an incredible and wounding read."
"Spellbinding.... [stirs] historical research and contemporary memoir into a captivating frenzy."
"A well of invention and imagination."
White Magic] is unlike any other book out there and will certainly launch Washuta’s meteoric rise."
"A web of honest examination of self and context. . . . A vibration that asks the body to listen, and rewards it for doing so."
"Powerful. . . . Washuta’s essays refuse the mandate of a tidy resolution. Instead she circles around each subject, inspecting it as symbol, myth, metaphor, and reality, all while allowing her readers space to draw their own conclusions, or to reject the need for any conclusion at all. Like a stage magician, she asks readers to look again.
White Magic is an insightful, surprising, and eloquent record of stories of magic and the magic in stories."
White Magic shines with humor, heartbreak and the kind of wisdom that only comes by walking through fire."
"An innovative and deeply felt work to sink into."
"Seamless and scalding."
"Bold, inventive, bewitching."
"In this potent, illuminating memoir in essays, Elissa Washuta, a member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, digs into her relationship with magic and the occult. . . . Touching on love, heritage, identity, and faith,
White Magic is resonant and weighty."
"Her skill at transforming writing clichés and well-worn cultural signifiers into fresh insights is alchemical."
"Necessary and magical."
"My favorite nonfiction book that I have read this year so far. It is fantastic. . . . I just wanted more and more from this writer who is such an incredible talent."
"The most incredible memoir."
"White magic, red magic, Stevie Nicks magic—this is Elissa Washuta magic, which is a spell carved from a life, written in blood, and sealed in an honesty I can hardly fathom."
"Exactly what you need right now."
"Incantatory, impassioned. . . . [A] wholly magical look at learning how to recognize the power that rests within you."
"Riveting and insightful."
"A searingly honest and uniquely crafted work that rewards re-reading."
"[Sifts] through the broken shards of culture, looking for messages to restore one’s spirit."
My Body Is a Book of Rules) delivers a searing set of essays, each a fractal examination of the connections between her personal struggle with loneliness, abuse, and addiction, and the devastation of Indigenous communities swindled by colonial settlers, white developers, and foisted treaties rarely honored. Lured by the possibilities of fulfilling her desire to be loved and getting help for the hard work of recovery, Washuta is both drawn to and conflicted about modern witchery. But this is not a book about witchcraft or the occult. Topics and tone sweep from private introspection viewed through strange and often humorous lenses of Twin Peaks, claymation Mark Twain and his Devil, and the relationship woes of Fleetwood Mac's Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, to highly researched, unvarnished examples from the painful histories of injustice and loss for many Pacific Northwest Indigenous communities. VERDICT Washuta's story and struggles become a metaphor for the toll of colonialism on generations of Indigenous people like herself. Readers of recovery narratives, women's issues, and keenly observed social commentary will be rewarded here. —Janet Tapper, formerly with Univ. of Western States Lib., Portland, OR
A Cowlitz woman’s collection of interconnected essays on memory, nostalgia, and introspection, conveyed through personal history, popular culture, and magic.
Washuta begins with an account of her history with magic and witchcraft growing up. "The truth is I'm not a witch, exactly: I'm a person with prayers, a person who believes in spirits and plays with fire,” she writes. The author’s story is also one of personal healing, as she writes candidly about her abuse of alcohol, being misdiagnosed as bipolar, and suffering from PTSD. Across 10 interwoven essays that move through Washuta’s life, she uses popular-culture references—e.g., Fleetwood Mac,
Twin Peaks, and the video game “Oregon Trail II”—as guideposts in her own journey of understanding the world and her place in it. Washuta shifts her focus frequently (perhaps too much for some readers), from the history of the Seattle area to an in-depth discussion of horror movies to her search for an anti-drinking educational video she though she saw as a teen. At the same time, she investigates the connections among magic, witchcraft, and her Native heritage. The book breaks from traditional memoir in intriguing ways, including footnotes that speak directly to readers and an essay that begins by focusing on Twin Peaks and then slowly begins to emulate it, moving back and forth through time and showing the changing nature of narrative across shifting time frames. Throughout, Washuta is consistently honest about her own past and opinions, and she is unafraid to directly question readers, demanding engagement with the text. “This book is a narrative,” she writes. “It has an arc. But the tension is not in what happened when I lived it; it’s in what happened when I wrote it. Like I already told you, this is not just a recounted story; I am trying to make something happen and record the process and results.”
A fascinating magic trick of a memoir that illuminates a woman's search for meaning.