8: A Memoir by Amy Fusselman
Reviewed by Jessica Bennett
You might find the addlebrained tone and the affected book layout a little precious at first, but don't give up on this diminutive stream-of-consciousness memoir too quickly. Amy Fusselman has a way with words: she'll lull you with her ramblings about time, alternative healing, and monster trucks, then sideswipe you with an existential truth or an offhand memory of the child molester who preyed on her young self. Ultimately, what you get feels like a great, if one-sided, conversation that's not entirely unlike listening to Spalding Gray, where countless threads are dropped and deftly picked up again, linearity thrown to the wind in favor of something truer to the way our minds actually work.
What's most striking about the tone and rhythm of 8 is how easy it is to dip in and out of it. The book is so slim, at first glance it might seem that reading it all in one sitting would be imperative, and there's certainly a joy in doing so. But it also bears up to the kind of interrupted reading Fusselman describes parents of small children being forced to do. While it's possible to read while watching one's children, she says, "Both the reading of the books and the watching of the children will be performed in a way best described as half-assed." She goes on to explain that, in order to read without the distractions of children, it's not enough to have someone else watch them while you read at home.
You must leave your home, leave your yard, leave your street. You must drive to a cafÃ© in town to read your book.
You must run and hide from your child as if your child is serving you a subpoena.
Fusselman is as likely to stop you in your tracks with unearthed pain and heightened empathy as she is with laughter. While recounting the experience of learning to ride a motorcycle, she is struck by a memory of her grandmother, who had to adjust to a prosthetic leg after a horrific car accident that took the life of her husband:
Maybe she was humiliated about it -- a grown woman having to learn to walk again. Maybe she didn't think it was cute and funny at all, the way my mother always told me the story, that grandma learned to walk with her granddaughter. Maybe she didn't like her big, expensive fake leg. Maybe she hated her new, dumb life with a big fake leg and no husband. Maybe she wished she had killed herself in that car, too.
Fusselman thinks about pain via oblique and tangential moments that dissect our society's fascination with its proper manifestations. Her own experiences as a victim of pedophilia, which she doles out in recurrent snippets, chafe against the norms of confessional memoirs and exposÃ©s, the "female adults crying" school of enabling society's tut-tutting about how awful and monstrous these fiends are. She deals with the horrors of her four-year-old self on her own terms, eschewing obsessive dwellings in favor of concise commentaries shot through with palpable anger. These moments will linger in your memory, giving you a slight hint at how they invade her own, but the beauty of the book lies in how she lets them command neither her narrative nor her life, instead getting on with the work of being a daughter, mother, spouse, writer, motorcycle rider, and the rest.