Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I Wore The Ocean In The Shape Of A Girl by Kelle Groom - Review

Get it at or your
local independent bookseller.
Where to begin?  Perhaps with the title.  It points not only to this memoir's dual settings of Florida and Massachusetts, but also to Groom's associative, imagistic, and lyrical style.

So what's it about?  Kelle's hard-drinking lifestyle leads her in and out of rehab during her late teens through her mid-twenties, and in the midst of her raging alcoholism, she gives birth to a son, Tommy, who is immediately adopted by her aunt and uncle.  When Tommy dies just a bit more than a year later, Kelle is bereft, and seemingly emotionally riven.  This memoir - which, again, leaps back and forth in time and place, very much in the manner of a waking dream - traces her struggles with alcoholism and rudderlessness, as well as her recurring attempts to process Tommy's death and to reconnect with his adoptive parents.

My thoughts, opinions:
In this memoir, style marries inextricably with substance.  Groom brings us so close in to her psyche and to her thoughts, strung together from image to image, event to non-contiguous event, that we feel we almost are her, and intensely present within her for the unpredictable shift of emotions that we all experience from moment to moment, but often don't record so literally, so unfiltered.  It's rare to find a narrator taking this risky and intimate stance, and it pays off here with an intensity of experience I've not encountered in a long time.

As I read, I was reminded of that unmoored feeling of adolescence, when you're experiencing moments - sometimes transcendent, but often dangerous too, as your judgment waxes and wanes, your risk-taking ebbs and flows - but you have few labels for what's happening in your head, and perhaps don't even need those labels.  Image melts into image, moment into moment into memory and back.  That's the feel of this gritty, emotionally challenging - even draining - yet luminous memoir from prize-winning poet Kelle Groom.

Here's a sample of her prose: (Setting: 2009, almost 30 years after the death of her son.  Situation: She's visiting Cape Cod to see her aunt and uncle - the boy's adoptive parents - for the first time since Tommy died.)
But they're confused.  I can see they're wondering why would I come here and keep it a secret from my parents, ask them not to mention it?  They are uneasy, our conversation triple-spaced.  Leaning into the island, faces turned toward me, elbows on granite - we make a tableau.  She's lily-like.  His eyes are magnified, underwater.  Oh, I am a wrong number.  Even making conversation with cashiers in the grocery store exhausts me, and I'm here with almost no notice, sitting in a kitchen with people who barely know me.  Here for days and days.  Everything feels off.  A child would be welcome here - a child would fit in.  But I am too old for this house.  I know why people choose the endless time after death, that quiet, but it's always terrible when someone stops singing.  The three of us create some kind of hum.  Invisible bees circle us, raising the hair on my arms.  I've changed my mind.  I want to retract everything, reverse my trip, go back over the bridge, get back to my quiet duplex with the ocean outside.  Nobody asking me questions.  Mark says "Why don't you call your father and wish him a Happy Thanksgiving? (188)
So you get a sense of how close-in and metaphor/image-rich the prose is...

Who would benefit by or be a natural fit for this brand-new book? People who gravitate toward memoirs with intense emotional issues at their core, poets and writers, people who would enjoy visiting the settings of Florida beach towns and Massachusetts industrial towns (they're not the focus, but these settings do play an substantive role in Groom's explorations and development).


Action:  I'm going to take a long walk by the ocean here just as soon as we get some sun.  And I'm going to look for seals and solace, in honor of Groom.  Also, for "Get Creative" month at ActionReaders, I might play around a tad with her prose style, write some parallel passages to see how it suits me...

FYI: Kelle Groom is on book tour right now, with time in FL today through next Tuesday, and Brooklyn, NY on the 22nd.

1 comment:

LBC said...

Hi Laurie. I responded to your comment on my review over at my blog. I really agree with your assessment of the form contributing to the meaning here. I think the circular nature of the narrative helps to really accurately reflect the nature of Groom's addiction (and addiction in general). Her tendency to revisit the same issues and to make similar mistakes, is kind of a nightmarish cycle.

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