“A man could do a lot for you, he added. I mean, like bulldozing and roofing, heavy lifting, he said. Maybe more.”
So says a character in Lynn Crosbie’s Life is about Losing Everything (2012).
It might not be the kind of statement that leads one to expect a passionate love story from her pen, but Where Did You Sleep Last Night is not about the bulldozing and roofing kind of love, but about the ‘more’.
The kind of ‘more’ that demands a little more from readers, too. Including a willingness to step away from the known.
“Earth looks like this when you are away: a big floating apartment building, where some of the drapes are drawn; others are open; where different things – eggs frying on a hot plate, a home perm, a cello’s sacred lowing – happen all the time.”
In this new place, narrator and reader alike, may have to step away, just to leave a space for what is intimate and frightening.
“I would eat in the library, where Mrs. Killzone ignored me as I watched the part in Nirvana Unplugged when, at the end of ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night,’ he closes his eyes, pauses, then opens them, and it is so intimate and frightening, I would never fail to be shocked to tears.”
The emotional intensity of the story is a lot to take in, not only for the narrator but for the fictional Kurt Cobain, who returns to life on the pages of Where Did You Sleep Last Night.
“Eventually, I told him that he died young.
And that I knew all of his music, and a lot of personal things.
He saw that I was miserable, knowing too much, and held up his hand.
‘This can’t be good for either of us,’ he said.”
He and the narrator are married using expensive forgeries, as Evelyn and Celine Gray-Black.
“He didn’t know that I’d loved him as long as I could remember; that I had such a painful crush that I used to go to bed early just to imagine being with him.
The novel charts the history of their relationship, the narrator’s journey from reading “a lot of many, pretty good, Kurt Cobain fanfics to “our honeymoon in New Mexico, we stood above the Rio Grande gorge, and he carved our names on the bridge as my scarf unwound and fainted beneath us, landing like a vein in the stones.”
This passage reveals one of the many lyrical moments in the prose, but not all of them are beautiful although ‘unwinding’ is a recurring theme.
“We got stoned and saw our old skins putrefying in the compost and remembered stepping out of them, like sticky white salamanders struck by sunbeams.”
There is an overwhelming tension to the story.
“I could see inside myself, where I was not beautiful. And knew that he would see it too, my fury, my jealousy, and my need.
He would leave me.
I made sure of it. I found the plug to the whole universe and tore it out, then got high as everything, very slowly, collapsed.”
It is simultaneously disorienting and unstable, paralyzing and unyielding.
“The anger, I told her, was like a twister, funneling hard towards me, sucking dirt and poison into its mouth.”
It’s dirt and poison, eggs frying and cellos lowing, the kind of novel that pulls readers into the storm’s eye so sharply that whiffs of euphoria distract you from the crash-landing to come.