I lay back in the grass among fallen trees and the sun on my palm felt like a knife I could use to bleed myself dry with one swift cut to the jugular.
From its opening line, Ariana Harwicz’s Die, My Love is both intense and stultifying: a suffocating pulse that rises to burst the skin’s surface without ever spilling over into a flood of freedom. The knife that could be used, but instead the one who wields it lays back in the grass. Prone and passive. Yet the protagonist of this shattering short novel is anything but passive. Moving through the thick sludge of her own desperate depression, she feels cut off from those around her in the outside world, and numb to her own experience. But her actions and her inactions affect the lives of everyone in her life in increasingly violent and destructive ways, as she searches for the freedom she both desires and despises.
I take long swings from the bottle, breathing through my nose and wishing, quite simply, that I were dead.
The novel’s unnamed narrator is a young wife and mother at odds with the circumstances of her own life and increasingly distant from her own sense of herself. In a novel that narrates exceptionally effectively an experience of extreme depression, it is the unbridgeable gulf between the narrator’s inner and outer worlds that is brought into focus through the novel’s language. From the ways in which the words ‘my love’ are weaponised in the relationship between the narrator and her husband, to the fragmentation of sentences, to the suggestion that ‘understanding one another is too violent’, this novel places language at the extremes of what it is possible for communication to do. Language is both the barrier and the bridge between people and it is frequently shown to be inadequate as either. The use of first-person, present-tense narration, however, gives the novel an urgency and immediacy that diverges entirely from the experience of the one who is narrating it. This places the reader into the immediacy of the novel’s present, creating the paradoxical experience of being both immersed within and distant from the narrator’s experience. It is this paradoxical feature of language – to both include and occlude simultaneously – that makes the narration of this novel so effective. Always both distant and present, the reader is placed into the position of the narrator through language’s play.
The novel alludes toward Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway as a novel about ‘the interconnectivity of human experience’ – an interconnectivity which is accomplished here by the narrative style and perspectives, but which is also the primary experience lacking from the narrator’s life, who is perhaps more akin to Mrs Dalloway‘s Septimus. Die, My Love does not present neat allegories or trite comparisons, however. It is the complexity of emotional trauma and its narration through the act of writing that drive this novel.
Increasingly intense and immersive, Die, My Love explores the violence of human relationships that include sex, marriage, motherhood and filial responsibility. Within these sharp confines, however, there is ample room for the imagination to wander freely, and there are moments of wild magic that provide vivid contrasts and contrapuntal poignancy to the deadening isolation of the narrator’s daily life. There’s a vital energy that pulses through the pages of Die, My Love, carrying its protagonist onward through each and every pivotal moment to finally become the narrator of her own destiny.
About the Publisher:
Charco Press publishes award-winning short fiction from Latin American writers translated into English for the first time. Charco Press selects authors whose work feeds the imagination, challenges perspective and sparks debate. ‘We aim to change the current literary scene and make room for a kind of literature that has been overlooked. We want to be that bridge between a world of talented contemporary writers and yourself. Authors you perhaps have never heard of. Because none of them have been published in English. Until now.’
Review by Sally-Shakti Willow
Sally-Shakti Willow researches and writes utopian poetics at the University of Westminster, where she is also a visiting lecturer in English Literature and Creative Writing. Her writing has been published by Adjacent Pineapple, Eyewear, The Projectionist’s Playground and Zarf. The Unfinished Dream, a collaborative chapbook with visual artist Joe Evans, was published by Sad Press in 2016. She is the research assistant for The Contemporary Small Press project, and is on the judging panel for the Republic of Consciousness Prize. @Spaewitch