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I Love You but I've Chosen Darkness

by Claire Vaye Watkins

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572371,820 (3.4)2
Recently added byDyrfinna, private library, 8G, vrwolf, Brenda_K, miss.mesmerized, Well-ReadNeck, dablackwood

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When does a postpartum depression end and a real depression begin? The narrator – coincidentally with the same name and profession as the writer – is exhausted after giving birth. Flying to Reno for a book reading and leaving everything and everybody behind seems to be a good way out of the daily chores for a couple of days. Yet, she decides not to return but to reconnect with her hometown in the Nevada desert. Many people she had forgotten turn up and bring back memories and she questions the road she has taken since she could have chosen a completely different one.

Admittedly, the blurb sounded intriguing and I have read several reviews praising Claire Vaye Watkins’ novel “I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness”. However, for me, it didn’t really work. It is experimental in form and quite often there are lengthy quotations I had difficulties linking to the plot. The narration is strongest when we learn about the new mother’s struggles with her role, the new situation and the feeling of being fatigued. The rest seemed to be a bit messy which might well reflect the narrator’s – any maybe author’s - state of mind.

The book might best be described as an odyssey in which the narrator sails through time and space, searching for her identity which seems to have gone lost with childbirth. She could stop her journey at any moment and go back to her husband and daughter, but she doesn’t. She knows that there will be some nasty encounters and she will see places she only wanted to forget, but something drives her to continue.

Neither could I sympathise with the narrator nor could I really make sense of her adventure. It might be a question of hormones that you can only really understand if you have been in a comparable situation. ( )
  miss.mesmerized | Nov 26, 2021 |
This is so filled with self-loathing that I expected to end up feeling more sympathy for Claire (her name in the book is her own name) than I did. Objectively she is a sympathetic character. Claire was raised by mentally ill unprincipled addicted parents whom she loved, and both of whom died both too early and well after they ought to have done. In the wake of chaos she created a self utterly unconnected to everything in her past. Then she broke, and she broke the people she should have loved and protected. Then she returned to her self -- ashes to ashes, dust to dust, middle of nowhere crazy hippie life to middle of nowhere crazy hippie life, and at some point from brokenness to some form of wholeness. She knits together a dismal disturbing past and a conventional present, the particulars of which are defined by others. This book definitely subscribes to the theory that depression springs not from chemistry but from living a life at odds with what drives us. And so she found her center, but at what cost? Though many a man has left his family to find himself, to find a greater truth, starting with Odysseus, I expect more from women. There, I said it. That might be anti-feminist, but I don't think so. I don't want feminism that encourages woman to sink down into the narcissistic suck of white American manhood. That does not move us foreword.

I always have difficulty with autofiction, not knowing what is real and what is fantasy. But here it worked. For me autofiction done best uses fiction to get to truths a straight recitation of fact would not reveal, and I think Watkins did that. She is a wonderful writer, and she tells a story (her story?) that touches on larger truths. I think Watkins achieves that "larger truths" goal here in part simply by using autofiction. I know that sounds confusing, but the way I see it the major point of this tale is that you need not make choices. You live in tune with your inner voice and exclude nothing. You can be a partner and a slut (I use that term in a non-pejorative sense), a mother and a self-involved loner, an artist and an academic, a narcististic shitheel and a generous friend. So if the larger truth is that one need not make choices, that one action does not in anyway predestine the next, the use of autofiction - not choosing between fiction and non - highlights that. It truly serves the point of the book.

I enjoyed the read, The writing itself is beautiful, the story compelling (if also off-putting) and often quite amusing, and there is a real sense the author accomplished exactly what she set out to do. That is a lot. But boy do I feel sorry for her ex-husband and daughter (FWIW I think she does too.) If you need a main character you are going to end up liking I suspect you should steer clear. This one will never understand that her version of love only feels good to her and completely disregards the needs of the poor people she purports to love, and therefore isn't love at all. ( )
1 vote Narshkite | Oct 23, 2021 |
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