Sunday, March 1, 2015

Excavation, by Wendy Ortiz

Ortiz presents us with the best kind of memoir: one that reads like fiction. I won't give anything away about the plot, but the story's characters are also presented to the reader in the best possible way. No one needs me to remind them that life is hardly ever one thing or another. In "Excavation" bad things happen, but no one in the book is painted as purely victim or purely villain.

The story begins with the author in middle school and Ortiz captures her young voice, the scenes, and the setting perfectly. One interesting structural choice: the sporadic inclusion of sections titled "Notes on Excavation" which explore the story from the pov of the author as an adult. Unsure at first as to how I felt about these sections, I decided this structure was a necessary, brilliant move on the author's part, one that interrupted the narrative so that readers are reminded of the fallout of the story-present.

Also, one of the truly amazing and beautiful things Ortiz has accomplished here is that she portrays a young girl's sexuality. Not since Alicia Erian's "Towelhead" have I read such an unflinching account of a young female's libido. Makes me wonder why this one aspect of life has been so off-limits.

In addition, "Excavation" does a good job reminding us how vulnerable we are. How when we are young, small and big acts of betrayal and neglect can wound us in a deep and long-lasting way. And how, as we work to heal these wounds, as they shift in our subconscious like the colored pieces in a kaleidoscope, our bodies/lives manifest the fallout.

"Excavation" is a triumph on so many levels. An important read for memoir lovers. An important read for everyone.

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