The Book Maven’s Literary Advent Calendar 2014, Day Five

December 5th, 2014 | Filed under Books, Reading, The Book Maven's Literary Advent Calendar

In Day Four’s post I talked about darkness and despair. I wish I hadn’t been reminded of it again, but this afternoon Rolling Stone magazine retracted its article about The University of Virginia, “A Rape on Campus.”

It is not my place here, on this blog or in this series, to dissect the Rolling Stone editorial ethos. But it is my place to point out books that relate to our culture, and on my Advent Calendar list already was the perfect choice for today.

A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing: A Novel by Eimear McBride

A Girl Is A Half-Formed ThingI recently sat down and interviewed Eimear McBride for VQR; unfortunately, that interview won’t be live for a few weeks, but I tell you that I spoke with her because otherwise after reading this challenging, harrowing, brilliant novel you’d never otherwise believe that its author is a happy woman–serious and thoughtful and angry at the way the world treats women–but also happy, witty, and whole.

A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing follows the life and fate of a young woman whose older brother survived brain-tumor surgery–but not well. In the wake of her father’s desertion and her mother’s overattention to that brother, the narrator finds herself enduring neglect and abuse. There are so many moments in which McBride literally makes old things new through her style that I vow to re-read this book before the new year. She has said (and not just to me) that she struggled for a few years with completing her manuscript until one day on the bus she opened James Joyce’s Ulysses, “and then I knew what I wanted to do.”

While McBride’s prose is Joycean, it’s not mimicry. She’s found a whole new way to tell a story, in fragments and phrases and near-missed moments that are the literary equivalent of ┬áseeing fragments of broken china or glass fly up from the floor at the moment of impact. At one early point the narrator says “I am boldness incarnate, little madam little miss,” echoing her mother’s misplaced anger during a toddler bath time, and it seems that her identity as brazen is suddenly set.

It will be suddenly shattered during puberty, when the bourgeois uncle molests her, an act that will shadow the rest of her very short existence. Even though McBride’s narrator is fictional, I cry real tears with real feeling for her. Or maybe I am crying for the “Jackie” of Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s Rolling Stone piece. Or for the Roxane Gay of “Our Story” over at The Butter. Or for any of the millions of women, now and then and soon, who will endure the horror of rape and be labeled as brazen instead of broken.


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