This week we're taking a closer look at Powell's Pick of the Month Verge by Lidia Yuknavitch.
Fierce, elegant, beautifully grotesque, unabashedly sexy, unapologetically brutal. Exploring the effects of trauma and want on the psyche, Lidia Yuknavitch masterfully mixes sharp reality with the fantastical. Whether about blood-hungry mythical graywolves or desperate addicts seeking a fix, the stories in Verge
are surreal, dark fairy tales of pure, deep-down truth. — Gigi L.
Lidia Yuknavitch is a one of the Powell's staff's favorite writers. It’s not just that she's lovely to work with, or that her writing is emotionally gripping; she is adored because her narrative flights into the dark, vulnerable corners of consciousness are powered by a wingspan broad enough to sweep the most marginalized voices into the centers of her stories. In Verge
, as in all her work, Yuknavitch focuses her attention on adults and children whose bodies and labor have been coopted and corrupted by capitalism, patriarchy, and complacency. Her governing argument is loud and demanding: We
bear the responsibility for the ugliness she articulates.
All of the stories in Verge
are energized by Yuknavitch’s insistence on bringing the reader face-to-face with discomfort. The collection’s drumbeat of Look at this, how do you feel, look at this, how do you feel
is saved from monotony by the variety of experiences Yuknavitch explores and her knack for drawing up complex characters and relationships in just a few pages. In one of the collection’s most compelling pieces, “Streetwalker,” a tenured writer buys an hour of a sex worker and addict’s time, to do what she’s not sure. Realizing that she can’t save the woman, or un-condescendingly explain how, as a recovering addict herself, she feels bonded to her, the two strangers ignore each other in uncomfortable silence until the hour is up. The story is both defiant against normative values about who and what is decent or allowable, and cognizant of the strange humiliation of making an unwelcome progressive gesture, one that assumes, however unintentionally, a shared desire for an outcome defined by middle-class American norms. Yuknavitch lands firmly on the side of defiance, but the story’s flickering recognition of the energy is takes to maintain that defiance is really interesting.
Not all of the stories in Verge
share the self-awareness of “Streetwalker,” and can edge, as “The Pull” and “Drive Through” do, into a didacticism made more forceful by Yuknavitch’s affinity for metaphor and declaration: “We
put children into the ocean;” “You are the American way embodied, you are at each other’s back, you are two hundred billion served.” In these moments, the collection’s goal to hold a mirror to the reader in all their greed or ambivalence or unexamined lust is threatened by the sheer annoyance of being preached to.
It is worth pulling through these moments for the empathy of Verge
, and the collection’s evident desire to highlight lives that many of us don’t pay the right kind of attention to. Verge
is also remarkable in the fearless way Yuknavitch’s narration dives into the internal monologues of wildly divergent people, from a teen who sleeps with prisoners, to sisters who share a sexual experience, to a man with a suicidal wife, to a little girl who runs black market organs for backroom operations in Eastern Europe. Even if you find yourself unconvinced by the stories’ moral arguments, Verge
is an addictive collection — furious, nasty, inventive, and almost radically kind.
Check out the rest of our Picks of the Month here