It’s a book about living, death and everything in between. The “Other Difficulties” of the title is the everything in between and the grit of Suzanne Roberts’ latest book.
The uniqueness of “Animal Bodies” is that the author presents her essays as stories, not philosophical musings, not journalistic gleanings or memories vivid or not, although they certainly are all of those.
When we say the word “stories,” most think fiction. If the stories are personal, they’re called autobiography or memoir. Roberts’ penning the life she lives and the way she lives it is not as personal as we might think. She leaves room for all of us. Her words give comfort as often as they move us into corners of discomfort for her and, if read honestly, sometime for ourselves. Not all her experiences are singularly hers.
The first three pages of “Animal Lives” have brief personal and philosophical definitions of the word essay. The last definition says it all: “A story is a papier-mȃché carnation; the essay is a spotted purple orchard on your table. The one whose name you don’t know. The one that looks fake but is real.”
Along the way of our own lives, the events we live through, the people we leave, the people who leave us, the dreams dashed or recovered, the acts of cowardice or bravery, the injuries forgiven or held fast, are more than a writer’s journal entries, they are stories – each one proof that we are among the living animals who inhabit the earth and our bodies.
Back and forth
Roberts tells her stories in no particular chronological order. A more current event will often lead back to a ground-breaking experience that paved the way forward. Those past events can be painful, enlightening or humbling; the author does not flinch in her determination to know which.
Depending on the age of the reader, the author’s sexual exploits may bring an array of responses. For those of us whose early teen years included nothing more dangerous than Spin the Bottle or Post Office, Roberts’ youthful experiences may raise eyebrows or cause outright jealousy.
The death of Ilyse Kusnetz, poet and dearest friend of the author, brought me to tears more than once. How she dealt with her mother’s dying and death should touch all of us, whether our mothers are living or not. And her telling of the loss of a friend, not from death but from a growing apart, reflects one of life’s more difficult truths likely shared by many.
“Animal Bodies” may not be an easy read, but it is one I whole-heartedly recommend. In addition, it gives me another chance to endorse publications by university presses (like U of Nebraska Press) that no longer limit their output to academic subjects. When browsing in a bookstore, do not pass up university presses.
Visit bookinwithsunny.com for Sunny Solomon’s latest recommendations or just to ‘talk books.’
Sunny Solomon holds an MA in English/Creative Writing, San Francisco State University. She is a book reviewer for “The Clayton Pioneer” and her poetry and other writing has been published in literary journals, one chapbook, In the Company of Hope and the collection, Six Poets Sixty-six Poems. She was the happy manager of Bonanza Books, Clayton, CA and Clayton Books, Clayton, CA. She continues to moderate a thriving book club that survived the closure of the store from which it began. Sunny currently lives next to the Truckee in Reno, NV.