Book: Abandon Me
Author: Melissa Febos
Publisher: Bloomsbury, USA
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Synopsis: “Hailed by the New Yorker, Marie Claire, and Guernica for its “sheer fearlessness,” “ruthless honesty,” and “deep reserves of empathy,” Melissa Febos’s dazzling collection, Abandon Me, captures the intense bonds of love and the need for connection with family, lovers, and oneself. With it “she has emerged as one of our most creative and most unflinching memoirists, essayists, and teachers” (Los Angeles Review of Books).
In these linked essays, Febos tries to reconnect with her birth father and finds that an instinct for self-erasure binds them as surely as their blood. She remains closely tied to the loving sea captain who raised her, absent for months at a time. The hypnotic story of an all-consuming, long-distance affair with a woman marks her exploration of the worship and withdrawal that haunt her love life. Woven throughout is her insatiable hunger for self-knowledge, the difficult kind, and the powerful conviction that universal truths begin there. Abandon Me is at once a courageously vulnerable memoir and an incisive investigation of art, love, and identity.”
Review: Melissa Febos delivers a series of essays that weave her present with her past into a web of self understanding. She opens her wounds wide for the reader to fully experience, laying herself bare upon the pages of her memoirs.
On abandonment, she writes: “I want the people I love to do not as I would or have done, but whatever will keep them safe (…) There is a sorrow in me deeper than the regret of any cruelty for the fact of this: none of us could have protected each other. We could not even have protected ourselves.” (78).
On the early stages of love: “Love is so often a wish to have our wants seen and met, without having to ask” & “It is not easy to be seen, no matter how we crave it. It is not easy to look hard at the ones we love. It is always a little gruesome, as love is: full of contradictions and impossible promises” (103, 106).
On self discovery: “My stories are containers into which I pour myself and the indigestible parts of my experience (…) Once filled, they carry more of us than our lovers can bear, than we can. And sometimes they carry us away” (127).
On soured love: “I sat for hours in therapy sessions, searching for my feelings. I wanted to “get in touch with them.” I thought that when I finally found them it would be like a reunion with a childhood friend – emotional, surely, but also sweet – a reward for all my hard work. I did not think that I was leaving messages for a serial killer. I did not think that my feelings, receiving my invitation, would arrive on my doorstep like a cabal of madwomen and refuse to leave. I though that the host of the party decided when it ended and her guests went home. But feelings have terrible manners – they are like children, or drunks. They are mad. They gorge as the starved will gorge, until they are sick, until their stomach split (…) They do not leave when you want them to. They leave when they are finished” (213).
On her native heritage: “How could I ever know my own motives? The Pilgrims believed God had cleared a path, that the pestilence delivered by other whites was a path the Lord had cleared for them. They called it “The Miraculous Plague”. The natives called it “The Great Dying”” (287).
And on baring your soul to the page: “If you want to write about something, I tell them, you have to look at it. You have to look long enough that your own reflection fades” (292).
Abandon Me is complex and heartbreaking. It meets you in your own space and shows you pieces of your own self through lyrical essays that flow like water. Febos writes with metaphor, comparing the sun to a cup that has spilled onto the table, her emotions to a melon cracked upon the concrete, and her emptiness as a pit that cannot be filled. She invites the reader into her stories, allowing an intimate look at her darkest parts.
My Advice : This book is a must read. It is one of the most well written contemporary books I have read and will stick with me for a long time. It is deep and thoughtful; something to chew on. The book’s first fifteen pages are filled with glowing reviews and it is well deserved.