This is my first time reading anything by Melissa Febos, and now I’ve vowed to become a Febos completist!
Body Work by Melissa Febos offers creative nonfiction essays about the vital importance of writing about trauma in a society that shames people into silence and the transformative internal work that goes along with reclaiming your story. We delve into how to write honestly about sex, how the process can make us more aware of the difference between internalized misogyny and our own truest desires, how to write about other people without destroying them or ourselves in the process, and some of the deeply spiritual aspects of writing.
While reading this book, I was also taking an online course in creative nonfiction. As a newbie, I felt frozen, staring at the blank page, questioning whether I could really write about trauma. I wanted to write about sex, queer sex, dissociation, growing up an unusually precocious and sensitive child, the pervasiveness of patriarchal oppression, and I needed to make it compelling and honest and to “excavate events for which I had been numb on the first go-around.” I saw myself in Febos, and seeing her thrive and heal and do so through writing gave me a framework to visualize what I want in my own creative life. Body Work found me at the exact moment I needed it most.
One of my favorite essays in Body Work is A Big Shitty Party: Six Parables of Writing About Other People. I feel relieved to have read this essay before publishing anything of note! Febos shared her own mistakes, regrets, and shifts in perspective with such insight that my own immaturity as a writer felt impossible to ignore. I had ideas for essays that had long been brewing that weren’t necessarily cruel nor untrue, but they could sting someone. Febos reminded me, “There are good essays that there are good reasons not to write,” but also, “…a difference in individual truths is not always a conflict. So long as we don’t try to speak for each other, there is room in our house for more than one story.”
I’m always looking for books that illuminate the experience of gifted children (a term that’s not always appealing, and yet we don’t have any other highly recognizable terms for intellectually advanced kids and adults), as these children tend to have difficulty seeing themselves reflected in the world. She describes her heightened perceptivity, openness to spiritual experience, early advanced reading and writing abilities:
“I wanted to be a writer very young because writer was the only role I could see myself occupying in society, the only one that might hold everything that I was: queer, overly emotional, burdensomely perceptive, reluctant to do any kind of work whose purpose was opaque to me, ravenous in ways that made me an outlier. It was an occupation that seemed to offer respite and relief, but also was connected to the sublime—it offered the gift of self-forgetting, a transcendence on the other side of which lay insight. I did not think to compare this with any description of religious experience, because I had not read any. Now, it seems obvious.”
My copy of Body Work is so laden with highlights, it’s impossible to pick out the most profound or exciting quotes. I felt magnetically drawn into the writing world of Febos with each essay. This book is like a course in itself, and I’m sure I’ll read it dozens of times over the next few years both to learn and measure my learning and just to hear the voice of someone who actually gets it…someone who has done the work, knows the work never ends, and sees transformation and art as necessary to one another.
I recommend this book to writers of all experience levels, and to anyone who has ever considered telling their own story through memoir. If you consider yourself an intersectional feminist, queer, contemplative, and literary, this book is a dreamscape of inspiration.
Thank you, NetGalley, for this ARC!
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