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Kim Addonizio’s ‘brave,’ ‘tart’ memoir


“I hope you will forgive me,” she writes in “Pants on Fire”, an essay that is largely about the times she’s been accused of lying in her poetry (because according to some, poetry is supposed to be fact-checkable; who knew?). “I can’t seem to stop telling you everything about me in the lineated memoir of my life. This may be because I’m a woman, which means I am an emotional landmine waiting to be stepped on, a weeping, oversharing harpy whose inner weather fluctuates wildly. And women, as everyone knows, often lack that quality of imagination men have in such abundance.”

It takes bravery to be as honest, and as tart, as Addonizio is, even in the face of the reproach that comes when you tell the whole truth instead of pretending. This kind of writing flies in the face of our societal preference for curated Instagram feeds and selective Facebook posts. And this kind of writing will be off-putting to some — but I found it refreshing.

Addonizio’s compact volume of essays seems at first like an account of debauchery akin to watching an episode of Girls meets Absolutely Fabulous. But soon the author’s pain is brought into focus. These are the writings of a brave woman. In “Simple Christian Charity”, an essay about Addonizio’s mentally ill, abusive older brother, she writes, “Fiction comes partly from scraps of life stitched together in new patterns. Trouble and conflict are its engines, and he is some of the trouble I’ve experienced in my life.” Later, she writes, “What we’re given we use, or else it destroys us.”

But familial pain, drinking too much, emotional instability: these are only part of a writing life. Addonizio also sheds elegant light on her encounters with language, the meaning of poetry and what it really means to be a writer. She’s privileged to be able to lead a creative existence, yes. But don’t say she hasn’t paid the price. We’re just as privileged, as readers, to be trusted with her confessions, which are designed to make us feel but also to teach us something that isn’t cautionary. She’s not saying, ‘Don’t be like me.’ She’s saying, ‘If you want to be like me, be valiant. If you want to be a writer, your life will not always be pretty, but it sure will be real.’

Marissa Stapley is the Toronto-based bestselling author of Mating for Life. Her second novel, Things To Do When It’s Raining, will be released by Simon & Schuster in 2017.

TORONTO STAR | ENTERTAINMENT

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