Sunday
May032015

Today I Am a Book

By xTx


 

Civil Coping Mechanisms
March 2015
978-1937865375


Reviewed by Gabino Iglesias


 

xTx's prose is the equivalent of a curious hummingbird going through a nervous breakdown. It zigs and zags and then stays put while still buzzing, and it does so in a way that renders prediction impossible and rewards the reader with the knowledge that every line can bring a new discovery. In Today I Am A Book, xTx leaves behind the restraints of corporeal reality and transforms into a plethora of people and things, all of them with a story and an important reason for being. The result is a book that jumps from the poetic and beautiful to the horrific and gory with incredible ease, and it cements its author as one of the most exciting voices in contemporary fiction. 

A slave, a fisherman, a short order cook, a farmer, a basketball coach, a babysitter, a caretaker, a parking lot attendant, a king, an outlier, a tattoo, a horse whisperer, a burglar, a hunchback, a mess—these are only some of the people and things xTx inhabits in her prose. From one perspective to another, the only constant in this narrative is change, and it happens at breakneck speed. Today I Am A Book is made up of fragments that tell stories and communicate the wonder of multiplicity while also exploring the miracle of transmutation, the possibilities of anthropomorphism, and the darkest corners of human nature. Abuse, murder, and pain are part of life, and xTx has found a way to distill beautiful words from the mundane, the ugly, and even the eschatological.

From the get-go, it's clear that these narratives will walk a fine line between fantasy and truth and that the words in the book are about imagination and the ethereal as much as they are about things as earthly as murder, infidelity, stealing, and menstruation. However, the most magical thing about Today I Am A Book is that the autobiographical promise delivered by the title is something readers have to dig around for, and something that will only be perfectly clear to those who know the author on a very personal level. How much of what's being told is autobiographical and how much belongs to the realm of the unreal? The writing only offers questions that sound like answers:

I have my mother's hands. If my hands were severed from my wrists and found next to a dumpster in a grocery bag, the authorities would assume they belonged to a woman. The skin is baby smooth. The fingers, thin and long. The nails, almond-shaped and well-manicured. When I was young, my mother and I would play "nail salon" and she would paint our nails. She would always paint them the same color. Afterwards, she'd lift her finished work by the wrists and exclaim, "The hands of a surgeon!!!" Then we'd go looking for recyclables, making sure to bring our metal "grabbers" and rubber gloves so as to not mar our perfect manicures. It never mattered, they'd always get ruined.

Today I Am A Book is relentlessly inventive and the variety it offers makes it a very satisfying read despite the fact that its 120 pages demand to be quickly devoured. The author manages to keep things fresh and interesting while jumping from one perspective to the next every few pages. This can be blamed on an ineffable quality of xTx's work, the ability it has to pull the reader in and keep her there for the humorous parts as well as the truly uncomfortable passages, which include a command to feel "how gross you are, how utterly disgusting and worthless you are."

Today I Am A Book is a rarity for two reasons, and both have to do with balance. The first is that there's as much dreadfulness here as there is hilarity. Broken lives and feelings of worthlessness share the same space as stealing from your mom and Seinfeld references. This creates a strange sense of uncertainty because the odds of laughing with the next chapter are equal to the chances of cringing, and that ambiguity forces engagement. The second balance xTx achieves here is between straightforward prose that makes reading her work very easy and an imagination that runs wild and delivers a lot at once:  

. . . 17 crawdads with melted butter, 147 Ritz crackers with Velveeta slices melted on them, 7 pounds of Rice A Roni (chicken flavor), a naked, sunbathing neighbor, 89 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, my dad kicking my brother up to his room 13 times, 67 gallons of cherry Kool Aid, 14 years of being 'the fat friend', 18 refrigerator magnets from all the places my mom would go to after the divorce, so many French fries, how many hamburgers, an entire truck bed of ranch dressing, the fat guy with the mustache in the back seat that started this entire mess, whipped cream filled pie pans, some fruits and vegetables, enough beef ribs to forge a canyon, peanut butter filled private parts and the animals that came to empty them, 32 avocados disguised as human hearts . . .

This book is incredibly brutal but nonchalant. It's as ruthless as the belongings of a dead brother some parents refuse to remove from a shared room and as vicious as sitting in front of a mirror after making yourself vomit and looking at the snot and tears instead of cleaning them, both of which happen here. However, it's also like, and about, a girl in a flower dress, brotherly love, and being hypnotized. xTx, like most humans, holds an entire world inside, and this is a considerable portion of it shared in only 120 pages.