Saturday, January 2, 2010

Musical Chairs by Jen Knox

Jen Knox is the author of Musical Chairs, a memoir (ATTM Press). She currently attends Bennington's Writing Seminars and works as a fiction editor at Our Stories Literary Journal. Her work has been published in Flashquake, Slow Trains, SLAB, Superstition Review and has been honored in Glimmer Train's Family Matters Competition (2008) Best Start Competition (2009) and Fiction Open (2009) as well as New Letters Poetry Prize. Forthcoming work will appear in The Houston Literary Journal. Jen grew up in Ohio, and lives in Texas, where she is working on a novel entitled Absurd Hunger.

An amazing, candid memoir of a young girl at age 15 runs away from home, turning to alcohol and stripping. Living where ever she can and when she gets to the bottom of her  well, ends up getting raped. This is when she is faced with her alcohol abuse . 
After being severly ill and detoxifying her body, she decides to get her life turned around. 
The book is told in 3 parts, The Runaway, The Dancer and The Education. The latter telling about her Grandmother and how she learns of her mental illness and her family history of mental illness. 

Trying to sum up the story is very hard because it really needs to be read to understand this girls life from a rebellious teenager to a reckless, alcoholic life to finding out about her family history of mental illness and how it plays a part in her whole life. I highly recommend this book. Its an amazing story, true story and would be a good book for a young person who is struggling.

From her website:
After suffering a series of severe panic attacks, Jen begins to explore her past.  In doing so, she becomes enamored by the mysterious nature of her family's history.  She discovers a pattern of mental health diagnoses and searches to define the cusp between her '90s working-class childhood and the trouble of adapting to a comfortable life in the suburbs.
Jen attempts to reconcile with her past and the family she ran away from at age fifteen.  With humor and surprising candor, she reflects upon years of strip-dancing, alcoholism, and estrangement while maintaining impressive narrative control. This story is about identity, class, family ties, and the elusive nature of mental illness.

An excerpt from the book ( off of her website):
Throughout the summer of 2003 I repeatedly underwent what psychologists have since diagnosed as post-traumatic stress and panic disorder.  A spiritually-inclined friend refers to the same summer as my rebirthing period.  Still others, who claim to have had similar experiences, tell me that such episodes were probably a warning, my body’s way of telling me to adopt healthier eating habits, exercise more or quit smoking.  At the time, all I knew was that the onset was swift.
I was working at a bookstore in Upper Arlington, a suburb of Columbus, Ohio.  The store was small, quiet.  Gently modulating harmonies, barely audible, filled the vast empty space between customers as I perused the alphabet of author names in front of me, searching for a paperback’s designated spot.  I had made it my goal to shelve the last two stacks of romance novels before taking a break, and I was on target, moving industriously until I reached to shelve one of the last titles and my arm went slack, my fingers released.  But the book didn’t fall. 
I could see my hand, pale and bony with soft freckles dotting knuckles, fingers still wrapped around the book’s yellow spine.  I turned the hand over, tracing its outline in my mind, trying to understand why I could no longer feel the silken texture of the cover.  The sensation I felt was almost peaceful at first; it was as though I were wandering through my body, haunting and examining but unable to control it.  I waited a moment for the cohesion of normalcy, but it wouldn’t come and soon my mind turned restless, flooding with possible causation: aneurysm, stroke, heart attack, sudden death syndrome.  I had visions of collapsing to the ground, of medics trying to resuscitate me.  I began to hear pulsing fluids moving inside me.  I was overwhelmed by a desire to run in every direction at once.
A stooped woman dressed in gray and light blue approached me slowly, asked me to help her find the history section of the store.  Her light eyes, sheathed with experience, seemed to mock me, laugh at my wretched vulnerability, my dispensable life.  I wondered at the superiority of her years; what had she done to deserve them?  What could she teach me?
“Miss?  I asked you a question,” she said.
I felt the vibration of chords and soft tissue in my neck as my voice directed her to the wall opposite and, without waiting for a response, I walked away.  I felt as though I were being led by my own body, each step ethereal but swift, limbs moving involuntarily.  Two size fives in closed-toe shoes were leading the way—they had navigated this path before.  When I was alone in the break room, my body turned its back to a chair and my knees bent slowly until the backs of my legs met the gold and green upholstery.  This is when the lack of sensation changed, and, suddenly, I became hyper-aware. 
 I squirmed, trying to escape the sounds: the clicks of another’s hand entering a code, the vending machine grumbling beside me and lightly shaking the chair in which I sat.  The vent above me thumped in-harmoniously with my body’s rhythm as it bucked a miasma of stale air into the room.  My mouth seemed overly warm and the contrast of wet tissues and smooth tooth enamel repelled my tongue.  The smallness of the room, closing in, suffocated my eyes with artificial light that fell on worn beige walls, a checkered tablecloth that caused my head to spin.  My skin prickled as though small needles were entering each pore.  Just as the door opened, my eyes closed and the needles all burrowed beneath my epidermis and swam through my body to my chest where they extracted the air from my lungs and stopped my heart. 
Co-workers huddled around, asking me what was wrong.  I was hunched over in the chair with my head between my legs, shaking now, and unable to explain.  All I knew was that my body was failing, and I didn’t want this audience.  My chest contracted each time I struggled to take a full breath so that I could only gasp when I tried to respond to questions.  I tried to ignore the audience, but when I closed my eyes the cold air grip that was suffocating my skin grew stronger, squeezing.
What comes after was akin to a blackout, and I can only see clips of the events that followed.  My manager drove me to the emergency room, and I became conscious of her nervous irritation at traffic lights and her tired, worried gaze as it lingered on me.  I sat like a nervous child, holding one knee to my chest as I fixed my eyes on the dull burgundy glove compartment in front of me.  When we arrived at the emergency room, it was my manager who explained that I might be having a heart or asthma attack; she said this to someone at a desk who immediately had me ushered back to a sterile, semi-private room.

Best regards,

I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.
~~~Jorge Luis Borges



Staci said...

I always like it when someone can overcome hardship and despair and make their life one of joy again.

Lisa said...

To be honest, this is my kind of book totally. Especially because I have a 10 year old GIRL and I am endlessly worrying if she will get into any of the stuff the writer got into. UGH.

Any insight into how she got there would be helpful. I love the excerpt too! Great review, Natalie!

Creations by Laurel-Rain Snow said...

Wow! This books sounds amazing. I must add it to my list...

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

This sounds so good and I love the title.

bermudaonion said...

Wow, it sounds like she's led quite a life. I love memoirs and will make a note of this one.