Fascinating collection of essays by a first-time author
I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.
Because I have to read so many subpar college essays, I enjoy an occasional collection to restore my faith in young writers. I leaned of an interesting collection by Durga Chew-Bose with an even more intriguing title, Too Much and Not the Mood. I learned of this book on a frequent segment of the PBS News Hour. I almost ditched Durga while trying to plow through the first essay of 95 pages. As I read, I kept glancing at the page number while trying to decide thumb up or down. But as I read, I decided to keep going. When I began to read the second essay, I was immediately determined to go all the way.
The first essay, “Heart Museum” turned out to be an interesting stream of consciousness memoir of her life so far. Durga writes, “I’m certain, if I wanted, I could walk home from West Forty-seventh, across the bridge and back to Brooklyn. That spiked measure of awe—of oof—feels like a general a general slowing, even though what’s really taking place is nothing short of a general quickening. The sheer ensconcelled panic of feeling moved. Infirmed by what switches me on but also awake and unexpectedly cured. Similar to how sniffing a lemon when I am carsick heals” (11-12). This essay requires a bit of extra attention, but well worth the thoughts she loaded into my consciousness.
Further into “Heart Museum,” she writes, “My quick-summoned first life—how everything was enough because I knew so little but felt cramped with certainty—is, I’m afraid, just like writing. That is to say, what can transpire if writing becomes a reason for living outside the real without prying it open. How, like first love writing can be foiling, agitated, totally addictive. Sweet, insistent, jeweled. Consuming though rarely nourishing. A new tactility” (19-20). This passage led me to continue. Was I becoming accustomed to her style?
Several of the essays are a bit more conventional and down-right interesting. In “Since Living Alone, Durga writes, “I learned last summer that if you place a banana and an unripe avocado inside a paper bag, the avocado will—as if spooned to sleep by the crescent-laid banana—ripen overnight. By morning, that sickly shade of green had turned near-neon and velvety, and I, having done nothing but paired the two fruits, experienced a false sense of accomplishment similar to returning a library book or listening to voice mail” (167). As an avid eater of bananas—with almost no ability to tell a ripe avocado from all the others—I look forward to my next shopping trip.
And finally, “Summer Pictures” touched a corner of my memory of summer days. She writes, “Because going to the movies still feels like playing hooky, or what I imagine playing hooky felt like: the unburdened act of avoiding my many orbits of responsibility. Of pretending that adulthood is no match for summer’s precedent, set years ago when we were kids and teenagers governed only by the autonomy of no-school, the distance our bikes could take us, an unlit park or basketball court at night, the weekend my crush returned from camp. Going to the movies is the most public way to experience a secret. Or, the most secretive way to experience the public” (191).
My “Rule of 50” is not infallible, and in the case of Too Much and Not the Mood” by Durga Chew-Bose, I am glad I stuck to it. It is a wonderful collection to stimulate the mind, the memory, and all the while tickling the fancy. 5 stars
Likely Stories is a production of KWBU. I’m Jim McKeown. Join me again next time for Likely Stories.