Title: if i would leave myself behind
Author: Lauren Becker
Published: June 2014
Publisher: Curbside Splendor
Relationship to Author: One of my stories was published in Corium Magazine in 2012, edited by Lauren, though I do not know her personally.
Lauren Becker’s book is quite tiny. I have to say right away, this is something I really enjoy–that ability to stick a book in my purse or pocket and go. The only thing I love more than the tiny book is the tiny book that comes with the ribbon bookmark attached to the binding (even though it looks like a book with a tampon). Those are the best! Though small, the quality of paper and binding of if i would leave myself behind is excellent. Curbside Splendor makes books that make you happy to hold in your hands.
The content of Becker’s book is quite interesting. Rather than a novella + stories, really what we have here might be more aptly called a story + flash fictions. The longest piece, the title story, is 28 miniature pages. Such brevity makes it easy to ingest Becker’s book in one sitting, as I did. This is not to say the collection is an easy read. Becker’s lines often lean toward the poetic. Example: “We do not know safety. Though I should know, I look to him for guidance. He looks to a bottle and climbs into the bottle and becomes the bottle and comes out another boy.” The rhythm and repetition lead the reader to a conclusion, one that need not so many words to reach, but would be boring and cliched if said in straightforward language. I admire this manipulation of simple ideas into lush images.
The title story can be difficult to get into. I read the first paragraph then reread it. I read 5 pages then went back and started over. Part of the confusion comes from the way the setting shifts. Is the speaker a girl, a young woman, an older woman? Clues tell me it changes. Sometimes names appear, though I am not sure I’ve met that person who might only exist in one scene. Sometimes the speaker refers to “we,” and other times “you” or “I.” Much like the boy who becomes the bottle, Becker leads us to conclusions using poetic language, but without more concrete setting indicators, the story becomes like a dream. This is not to say it is a poorly written story–far from it. It is a story that challenges readers. The speaker admits, “I know when I tipped to past tense. I sat on the toilet and broke in half, maybe more. I’ve rubber banded myself okay for now. The pieces don’t match up exactly, but close enough. This might be helpful information.” Rather than tell readers I am not okay, but I am trying to be okay. Beware, because I’m really not okay, the speaker describes in abstract images that she is broken and trying to fix herself. This was one of my favorite moments in the title story, one where I felt like the speaker was talking to me. Who else would the information be important to? To whom would she be speaking?
Becker’s flash pieces read like they are more straightforward prose, but are conceptual in nature. In “What Morning Is,” the electricity goes out. People in the area eat or sleep or clean to pass the time. When the lights do come on, there are those who forgot what light even looked like. The tiny flash piece felt like a conceptual bit on depression or loneliness.
Depression and loneliness are themes throughout if i would leave myself behind. Other repeated ideas are women who all look the same and therefore can be replaced easily. Many are described as broken, bent, snapped, or cracked. If one were to ask “What is in a name?,” Becker’s characters would say a lot. Individuals decide they hate their own name and change it, or hate someone else’s name (and mentally change it). Suicide appears more than once, making the collection hurt the heart more than it would have prior to Robin Williams’s death.
Becker’s style of prose that flows like water continues in her flashes, making some of the hardest punching I’ve read in the genre. It’s like she puts down a nice path and then throws pebbles in my way to trip on. Check out these lines: “My aunt and uncle were rich. My mother called my uncle a slumlord. Their family spent most winters in Florida. For two weeks, when school let out for Christmas, when my cousins were young. For weeks or months when their children left for college.” At first, readers are give nice subject + verb simple sentences. Then, Becker starts leaving out the subject and verb, making the sentences stutter. We start to stumble a little, as if the writer is asking us if we’re awake and paying attention. Good for her–keeps us on our toes, Lauren Becker!
I enjoyed if i would leave myself behind, which challenged me and asked me to leave my reading assumptions at the door. Though it wasn’t always easy, when it was banging on all cylinders, the collection felt like someone poking a bruise and asking me to address where it came from.