Book Review – Things Even Gonzalez Can’t Fix by Christy Chilimigras

One of the genres I generally avoid is the childhood memoir of trauma and pain. Not because it doesn’t interest me, but because of the grinding repetitiveness of abusive, neglectful, selfish or drug-addicted parents and relatives. I have read enough of them to find them generally depressing and too drenched with loathing of many stripes.

But this book is truly astonishing, and heralds the arrival of one of the most exciting new SA voices I have read in a long time. I read the first paragraph of the book by accident and it took my breath away, and so I continued over one long day and night to the end. My breath only returned much later.

Chlimigras’s command of words and meaning and metaphor is endlessly thrilling as she recounts a bewildering life to date (she is now 24). Her incomprehension at having to absorb the casual callousness and unkindness of those she loved (and still loves) is so well drawn, so literary, so profoundly expressed that I found myself partially hypnotised and partially sickened by as I watched her grow from scared and confused child to damaged adult.

But it is not really Chilimigras’s bruised history which recommends this book. It is also not the cast of characters (barely hidden by pseudonym, fully formed, flawed and fucked up), some of them them explicitly cruel, and others merely broken on the rack their own weaknesses.

It is more the style in which her chaotic life is splattered across the page, a sort of narrative Jackson Pollack. It brings to mind everyone from Hunter Thomson to Lori Groff to Jack Kerouac to Irvine Welsh. It is the way in which the reader staggers and cries and roots for the author, saying – your life will get better, it will get better, even though we know we are simply throwing optimistic sparkles into the air. We, and Chilimigras have no idea whether her life will get any better, or whether she will ever fully heal.

There is redemption in this book too. Her older sister, who is pseudo-named Soul & Protector, the lifeline to which her hope is tethered. Her wild and drunken friends as she grows into a teenager. The extended Greek family cocooning her as best they can with concern and food. And the author’s own threadbare resilience, resolute even against the worst of her own life’s choices.

This young author has just started, this is her debut. She can go anywhere with this talent. I hope she moves away from memoir and writes great fiction.

But it really doesn’t matter, as long as she keeps writing. Just read the first paragraph.

Things Even Gonzalez Can’t Fix is published by MFBooks. CC writes about sex and relationships for Cosmopolitan and other SA magazines.

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