March 20, 2015 § 1 Comment
By Rebecca Fish Ewan
When I heard Ariel Gore had published a new memoir, I bought it instantly. Then I set the thin book beside my bed and avoided it for months. The cover flap read, “Ariel doesn’t want to take care of her crazy dying mother, but she knows she will.” I couldn’t bring myself to read what I knew would be an honest, funny, authentic account of how she did it. Brilliantly, of course.
I read memoirs, because I like to see how other people negotiate the hard realities of life, including death. They help me believe that perhaps I can manage my way through similar circumstances, if and when they arise. I knew Ariel Gore wouldn’t disappoint, and I wanted to read her book, but I wasn’t ready to consider how I might behave if I were in her place, because I knew I’d fuck it up.
Reading about caring for a mother who had never been particularly caring felt too close to what I’d spent years avoiding. So the book sat, until I had read through my bedside stack. Then one night with my husband out of town and the kids asleep, I lay in my bed unable to turn my mind off. So I picked up The End of Eve and began to read. Trained as a poet, I read slowly and finished the book in a few days (a normal reader could have finished it in hours).
What I love about Ariel Gore’s The End of Eve is that it always sets a bull’s-eye on Leon Battista Alberti’s concinnitas, the idea of beauty he describes as a “reasoned harmony of all the parts within a body, so that nothing may be added or taken away, or altered, but for the worse.” Gore has such well-honed storytelling skills that she pares away the unnecessary until all that remains is a spare, exposed and beautiful story. Nothing need be added, nor taken away or altered.
Also, her writing has a musicality to it with recognizable beats of single sentence or one-word paragraphs that bring readers to attention, like a quick snap of her fingers: “The sound of morning rain.” Snap, I’m awake. “Santa Fe. I lived here now.” Snap. “Fluorescent light and the smell of disinfectant.” Snap. “The hiss of the oxygen tank.” Snap. “I tore cilantro, cut limes.” Snap. These beats grab me and keep me close, so I can taste, feel and see the story as it unfolds, all the way to the last line: “And now I was free.”
While reading The End of Eve, I was transported beyond the quiet sphere of light from my bedside lamp. I went to Portland, met Eve, and became annoyed by the rain and Eve’s selfishness. I sat in the quiet as Ariel wrote Behave in a way you’re going to be proud of on her wrist with a Sharpie while nursing her son, Maxito. I packed up and drove to New Mexico with her partner, Sol, and sweet Maxito, who became as the story developed a Yoda for me, always popping in with deep child wisdom. Like when tagging along as Ariel ships Eve’s remains to California and he declares, “That’s not Nonna…It’s just the ashes left over.” And I felt the scraping puncture of each tattoo Ariel added to her body. After her stars have healed, she wants more and plans a tattoo date with a woman known only as the chef. Gore writes, “What was a tattoo anyway, but a visual reminder of pain and memory. The memoir inked into our skin.”
Even though the content of The End of Eve scared me away at first, what drew me in, besides the phenomenal writing, was the humor. Gore delivers this story so I can both laugh at the absurd (a girlfriend sneaking about with a mime) and feel my heart quake at her sad isolation like when her mother tosses all Ariel’s belongings out of the house, changes the locks and then gets an attorney to investigate Ariel’s so-called abuse/neglect of Maxito for having nowhere sufficient to live).
In truth, after reading the book, I didn’t have any better idea how to reconcile my own mother/daughter relationship, or lack thereof, but I knew it could be done and done with love, humor, and wisdom. And that gives me hope. What more does one need?
Rebecca Fish Ewan, author of A Land Between, has an MFA in creative writing from Arizona State University where she teaches landscape history and design. She lives in Tempe with her family and is finishing the drawings for her narrative verse cartoon memoir of a childhood friendship cut short by murder. For more of her writing and sketches, see www.rebeccafishewan.com.