Synopses & Reviews
At the age of fifteen, Kelle Groom found that alcohol allowed her to connect with people and explore intimacy in ways she’d never been able to experience before. She began drinking before class, often blacked out at bars, and fell into destructive relationships. At nineteen, already an out-of-control alcoholic, she was pregnant. Accepting the heartbreaking fact that she was incapable of taking care of her son herself, she gave him up for adoption to her aunt and uncle. They named him Tommy and took him home with them to Massachusetts. When he was nine months old, the boy was diagnosed with leukemia—but Kelle’s parents, wanting the best for her, kept her mostly in the dark about his health. When Tommy died he was only fourteen months old. Having lost him irretrievably, Kelle went into an accelerating downward spiral of self-destruction. She emerged from this free fall only when her desire to stop drinking connected her with those who helped her to get sober.
In stirring, hypnotic prose, I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl explores the most painful aspects of Kelle’s addiction and loss with unflinching honesty and bold determination. Urgent and vital, exquisite and raw, her story is as much about maternal love as it is about survival, as much about acceptance as it is about forgiveness. Kelle’s longing for her son remains twenty-five years after his death. It is an ache intensified, as she lost him twice—first to adoption and then to cancer. In this inspiring portrait of redemption, Kelle charts the journey that led her to accept her addiction and grief and to learn how to live in the world.
Through her family’s history and the story of her son’s cancer, Kelle traces with clarity and breathtaking grace the forces that shape a life, a death, and a literary voice.
"Groom, a poet (Underwater City, etc.), gave birth to a son at age 19. Her aunt and uncle adopted him, named him Tommy, and took him with them to Massachusetts, where he died of leukemia 14 months later, in 1982. The backstory: Groom began drinking at age 14 ('My role model became the girl in Go Ask Alice'), had her first blackout at 15, was in the throes of alcoholism when she had Tommy. Although Groom tries to stop drinking the year Tommy dies, she's unable; at 20 she was abducted and raped. But by 1984 she's achieved sobriety, found a job, and made friends. Things get better: she finishes college, then grad school, and gets a job she likes at an artists' residency center. Through it all, she wonders about the details of her son's brief life. Groom moves back and forth between present and past, revealing tidbits of who she once was and who she's become. Her writing is a wonderfully compelling mix of simple and lyrical: there are stream-of-consciousness fragments ('Chain-link fence, metal door like on a submarine') and contemplative sentences ('I hoped that by writing about Tommy, I could find him'). (June)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"If any memoir has a pulse running through it, if any work of art contains within it the potential of transcendence, it is in your hands. I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl begins in a kind of glorious, terrible, ridiculous chaos, but then as we get closer and closer to its heartbreaking center and to the narrator herself, the 'heavy things' start falling off of her, of us a heaviness we didn't know we'd even been carrying. Kelle Groom has somehow found a container for each bright, hard spark of this life." Nick Flynn, author of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City
"The triumph of Kelle Groom's memoir, I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl, lies in her plangent, poetic prose as she lays bare the onset of her alcoholism at age 15, the child she bore and gave up at 19, and her dead-end jobs, upset parents, blackouts, hookups, and, eventually, slow and steadfast embrace of a sober, creative life." Elle Magazine
"[A] series of beautifully compressed narratives....As heartbreaking as this book is, Groom writes with a captivating urgency. Her salvation, a result of her tireless quest for clarity, will leave you cheering." More magazine
"The language of this brooding and obsessive memoir is exquisitely compressed, yet beneath the taut imagery and diction are palpable, powerful surges of emotions. A visceral, darkly lyrical narrative that reads with the immediacy and rawness of an open wound." Kirkus Reviews
"Poet Groom's stunning memoir reads more like poetry than prose and leaves the 'brain singing with neurons like a city at night.'...Her astonishing struggle and unique resurrection illuminate the universal human effort to embrace one's self, accepting personal flaws, demons, and methods of survival." Booklist
"Without an ounce of vanity or self-pity, she here describes that death spiral in the gorgeous, poetic language that is the backbone of this unflinching look at a life saved by forgiveness. What I am telling my friends: Are you a human being? Read this book! If part of what a poet does is alchemy, Groom has got that part of her craft down. And the graceful example set by her aunt and uncle is awe-inspiring." Library Journal (Starred Review)
"In this glittering fragmented memoir Kelle Groom reveals in brilliant detail how her life changed with the birth of her son, Tom, and how, in the years that followed, he remained, irrevocably, at the centre of everything. These beautiful pages offer a privileged glimpse of a world of secret emotions and thoughts. The reader too emerges transformed." Margot Livesey, author of Eva Moves the Furniture and The House on Fortune Street
Heartbreakingly beautiful and exquisitely raw: a memoir of a young poet’s search for the truth about her son’s death, and the journey into alcoholism that nearly killed her.
Acclaimed poet and memoirist Nick Flynn aptly says of this book, “If any memoir has a pulse running through it, if any work of art contains within it the potential of transcendence, it is in your hands.” That pulse and transcendence lives in every page of I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl .
At fifteen, Kelle Groom first feels the calming, numbing embrace of alcohol as it warms her chest, loosens her tongue, and allows her to connect with people and explore intimacy in ways she never could. She begins drinking before school, blacking out, and falling for damaged and dangerous men. At nineteen, Kelle is an out-of-control alcoholic and a single mother who gives her newborn son to faraway relatives to adopt. When her child dies from leukemia, Kelle hurtles toward the bottom she needs to hit before she can come back to life. Based on the author’s autobiographical essay published in Ploughshares, this hypnotic and compelling memoir is told in snapshots of raw honesty and vividly rendered detail only an accomplished poet such as Kelle Groom can deliver.
Exploring the most painful aspects of her addiction and loss, delving deep into her family history to uncover the source, Kelle traces with unflinching clarity and breathtaking grace the many complex forces that come together to shape a life, a death, and a literary voice. An unforgettable against-the-odds tale, I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl reveals the mysterious ways human suffering can be redeemed.
About the Author
Kelle Groom is the author of three poetry collections, Five Kingdoms (Anhinga, 2010), Luckily (Anhinga, 2006), and Underwater City (University Press of Florida, 2004). She has been published in The New Yorker, Ploughshares, and Best American Poetry 2010, among others. Her work has received special mention in the Pushcart Prize and Best American Non-Required Reading anthologies.