The Chronology of Water, Lidia Yuknavitch

December 2011

“Writing is really very easy,” said writer Derrick Jensen. “Tap a vein and bleed onto the page.” In her first memoir, Oregon author and teacher Lidia Yuknavitch not only taps a vein (or IO), she arranges her blood-spattered pages into a spectacular portrait of what comes after childhood abuse. “I thought about starting this book with my childhood,” she writes. “But that’s not how I remember it…”

“Life is a series of fragments and repetitions and pattern formations. Language and water have this in common.”

In between drinking away a collegiate swimming scholarship in Texas and leaving a husband who was too pure for all her anger, Yuknavitch loses her first child in stillbirth. She flees to Eugene, Oregon in the late 1980s and is moving numbly through an English undergrad degree at the University of Oregon when a friend sweeps her into Ken Kesey’s infamous yearlong graduate novel-writing experiment. As a child, Yuknavitch literally swam out of a household filled with rage, alcoholism, and unnamed sexual abuses. As an adult, she dives into deviant literature and writing, transforming her rage into art.

She marries three men (the third a grad student with whom she started an affair during a guest-teaching stint at San Diego State University), but it’s through years of exploring BDSM with a handful of women that she begins to heal from both her childhood and the loss of her child. (Kathy Acker, the mistress of blood and guts herself, spanks Yuknavitch’s pussy raw in an Oregon hotel room.) Through appropriating such pain on her own terms, Yuknavitch is restructured as a woman, a writer, and a lifelong anti-academic academic, going on to earn her PhD and authoring three works of fiction, Her Other Mouths, Liberty’s Excess, and Real to Reel, as well as Allegories of Violence, a book of literary criticisms, all before this memoir.

Throughout The Chronology of Water, Yuknavitch swims through pages, pools, reservoirs, and streams, with Kesey, Acker, and life-saving literature feeding her veins. This book is not about water, but it does move like it. Yuknavitch doesn’t use words just because they sound pretty. Her language, inventive and sparse, is determined to leave its readers spinning in realness, the physical grit of being present as a woman and as a human being.

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