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Excavation: A Memoirby Wendy C. Ortiz
In this searingly honest memoir of growing up during the '80s and '90s in Southern California, Ortiz brilliantly narrates her five-year relationship with a teacher 15 years her senior. This is a work of startling incandescence and raw beauty.
Involved in a secret five-year relationship with her middle-school teacher, Ortiz focuses on the emotional toll experienced at the hands of "Mr. Ivers." It is pretty satisfying to watch as Ortiz slowly becomes aware of the inequalities of this relationship, yet at the same time, it's entirely heartbreaking to watch this child (because, let's be honest, that is exactly what she is) take step after step toward the abyss — completely unaware of the skittering gravel beneath her feet.
While the reader may still want the closure of the after-story of Ivers's discovery and prosecution, this is not that story. Here we discover why, at 13, Ortiz walks open-eyed into a sexual relationship with a man more than twice her age. But can a 13-year-old girl, romanced by her teacher, go open-eyed into any relationship? Of course not, but she doesn't know that; she believes she is making a decision about her life. We discover why she doesn't tell, why she keeps the secret, and why she continues the relationship for five years. Isn't that what we always want to know in these situations — the "why?"
Excavation is... just that: a peeling back of layers to uncover what hides underneath. Wendy Ortiz absolutely flays herself wide open, and this excavation is one that will equally repel and compel you. Beautifully done, Excavation is one of my favorite reads this year.
Synopses & Reviews
Wendy C. Ortiz was an only child and a bookish, insecure girl living with alcoholic parents in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Her relationship with a charming and deeply flawed private school teacher fifteen years her senior appeared to give her the kind of power teenagers wish for, regardless of consequences. Her teacher — now a registered sex offender — continually encouraged her passion for writing while making her promise she was not leaving any written record about their dangerous sexual relationship. This conflicted relationship with her teacher may have been just five years long, but would imprint itself on her and her later relationships, queer and straight, for the rest of her life.
In Excavation: A Memoir, the black and white of the standard victim/perpetrator stereotype gives way to unsettling grays. The present-day narrator reflects on the girl she once was, as well as the teacher and parent she has become. It's a beautifully written and powerful story of a woman reclaiming her whole heart.
"Excavation: A Memoir is in turns shocking and universal, written in tones both measured and raw. Ortiz is a master at summing things up with a lovely turn of phrase." LitReactor
"Even when channeling her teenage naïïveté, in which she continually misreads Mr. Ivers's motives, Ortiz's story of lost innocence is unmuddied by drippy sentimentality or self-pity. Her sentences are muscular, without the fatty tissue of over-explanation or justification. She never undercuts the power of her prose with an adult sensibility of right and wrong. Instead, because she lays out the bare facts without judgment, the reader sees Mr. Ivers for what he really is: a coward. Ultimately, more than anything else, Excavation is the story of writing as salvation." Los Angeles Review of Books
"[I]n reading Excavation, particularly the deeper the reader digs into the book, one is lost in the unsettling gray. An overcast hovers above the beautiful prose, separating the black and white poles of law, of textbook crime, and this is where Ortiz does her best work. The gray is where Ortiz beguiles the reader by writing with distance, with so much spatial breath, that her 'I' becomes the name of an observant narrator looking down through the parted overcast." Fourculture.com
About the Author
Wendy C. Ortiz is the author of Excavation: A Memoir (July 2014, Future Tense Books) and Hollywood Notebook (Fall 2014, Writ Large Press). Wendy writes the column "On the Trail of Mary Jane" for McSweeney's Internet Tendency. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Nervous Breakdown, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, The Rumpus, Specter Magazine, and many other journals. She is co-founder, curator and host of the Rhapsodomancy Reading Series in Los Angeles. Visit Wendy at wendycortiz.tumblr.com or at her website.
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