D. A. Powell recommended this book when Sarah Vap and I interviewed him a few years ago. I had seen it around, you know, but I hadn’t really known what to make of it.
I read it–I remember this so clearly–on a flight to my friend Katie’s wedding in Minneapolis. I read it cover to cover in under two hours because I just couldn’t put it down. That rarely happens to me when I read, especially on a plane. But there I was, completely sucked into this new and strange and confessional and cultural work that was making my brain explode.
In the book, Claudia Rankine merges the speaker’s story of personal, intimate grief and depression with an overall analysis of American culture and norms. Over and over in the book, she explains (to the reader and to people the speaker encounters): “I am writing a book about the liver.” The function of the liver is to absorb all of the toxins in the body and break them down so they are no longer harmful. What’s brilliant about this book is that Rankine does the same thing with our culture: Don’t Let Me Be Lonely captures all of our toxic events and values and, through meditation and critique, breaks them down. Racism, consumerism, the pharmaceutical industry, television, violence, politics–all of it is absorbed here.
But don’t be mistaken–this is first and foremost a personal book. Even while digesting culture, the book maintains a close connection to its voice. It becomes hypnotic.
This book showed me why writers must take risks.
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