Open a book this minute and start reading. Don’t move until you’ve reached page fifty. Until you’ve buried your thoughts in print. Cover yourself with words. Wash yourself away. Dissolve. Carol Shields Republic of Love

Lynn Crosbie’s Life Is About Losing Everything (2012)

“You don’t know how to life your life anymore and you start drowning in it.”

House of Anansi, 2012

That’s the thing about depression, Lynn Crosbie explains in an interview with Shelagh Rogers on CBC Radio.

She describes what happens when you really start looking at the world, with the steady accumulation of little instances of pain, from stories about bullying to widespread famine

“The book has a tension between…my tragic sense of sadness and isolation and…the way in which I burst out of that, and that’s always with humour or with people I love…. But the tension is definitely between the pain and the pleasure and the depression and the fight against the depression.”

Well, she says ‘people’, but the one creature she loves most of all is Francis, Frank, her terrier.

In the interview she speaks about the intensity of that particular kind of love (she also has cats but…). In the book, she writes: “Francis is the only thing that has ever made me happy….” and the only photograph included is of Frank. She even took him to “Take Your Son to Work Day”.

Life Is About Losing Everything is not so much about Frank, but about all that contrasts with the happiness he inspires. She began writing it as a way to cope with two losses, a long-ago death of a boy she had gone to school with and the more recent death of her first boyfriend.

“Often, I am just standing there.
And I move into the past as if making a gesture as simple as a wave.”

She began writing it out and describes that process in the interview. You can take possession of the loneliness and self-loathing, which allows you to take control of it, and that changes it.

“That’s how you get through those things…you need to find a sort of antidote in art… a way of understanding it artistically or even if you’re really lucky making it beautiful through art.”

Well, that’s how she takes control of it now, but in the past she succumbed to addiction and substance abuse and a series of spiralling and unfulfilling relationships with men.

“It is unbearable sometimes and I need to…let the poetic side of my mind take over and surround those moments and give them a different aspect.”

When her poetic mind takes over, the result is a series of short pieces (usually two or three pages in length) which describe encounters with lovers and strangers, musings inspired by pop culture figures (from Michael Jackson to Julia Roberts), and introspective blurs and bursts of sentiment.

(The piece which really tugged at my heart was “It is a Mattress in the rain”, about all the memories that a particular mattress can hold, and the one which made me laugh out loud was “I need you”, which is a conversation she has with her vibrator about the nature of their relationship — well, the vibrator does most of the talking.)

Lynn Crosbie

Though short, the pieces reveal her poetic sensibilities. Even in a piece about cat-sitting for a neighbour, the scene is sketched with enough sensory detail for the reader to imagine herself in it alongside the author.

“It is not the mess, which is astonishing. Or the halo of flies around the black dish rack and random  piles of plates.
It is not the many overspilling ashtrays, the dripping walls, or unlaundered sheets and single pillow on the yellow mattress.
It is the rank stench of cat piss that originates in the beige crate-sized litter box in the centre of the apartment; that spreads beyond its point of origin, into every crevice, every scrap of fabric or upholstery, every dirty, black inch of the place.”

(This is a long quote, but if the smell gets to you, keep in mind that Lynn Crosbie soon closes the apartment door on this scene: much of what writer and reader inhabit in this book is harder to escape.)

This book will not appeal to readers who prefer a story with a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end. Life Is About Losing Everything is all middle.

(When I began reading, I approached it as a novel, but I soon adopted the method by which I read poetry, reading a few pages a day: that worked better for me.)

In some moments the act of writing it seems self-indulgent, in others self-sacrificing; it is difficult to characterize and difficult to recommend.

Although the work is obviously crafted, which would suggest the necessity of an audience, at times it reads like an inward musing. (Which is, as the author has said, how the pieces began.)

Watching “Sleeping With the Enemy” years after it was released, the author was inspired to write a letter to “Julia Roberts’ people”, “[b]ut this letter was never finished. The days are long and filled with pain.”

In many ways, Life Is About Losing Everything feels like an unfinished letter to the author’s self; there are moments of beauty, but the book is long and filled with pain.

Project Notes:
Day 28 of 45: Although I did read Lynn Crosbie’s controversial work Paul’s Case some years ago, this is a novel that I would not have picked up outside this project; if you trust in a publisher’s eye for quality, it can take you on some unexpected reading journeys, worthwhile explorations indeed.

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5 comments to Lynn Crosbie’s Life Is About Losing Everything (2012)

  • Sandra

    Francis was obviously a bright spot during the course of Crosbie’s depression and it is comforting to know that she had that sustenance. The thing you say about it feeling like a letter to herself offers much to a reader I believe because it provides almost instant access to what the author is feeling/experiencing and I think I might be willing to read about the pain if it held out the hope of some insight into taking control of the sources of the depression using creative energies which sounds like the process you refer to at the beginning of your review. It made me think of William Styron’s Darkness Visible which I remember as a very difficult and challenging read. Thank you for braving the waters and sharing your experience here. Your words have given me a clear enough picture to encourage me to try this title and I will not be disappointed because you have told me what to expect and in this case that is rather important…not at all the same as giving away an ending!

    • That’s true: you do have the sense, while reading, that you have access to everything she was feeling and observing. I would describe it as ‘raw’ in another writer’s hands, but, here, it feels crafted but with that exposed edge. The thing about Darkness Visible to my memory, was that it was more distanced and the prose felt precise and it was really short (even though it, too, felt longer than it was). To borrow from the imagery in Lisa Moore’s Alligator maybe it was the stillness to the chaos herein. It does feel a little like a spoiler to characterize the book as I have, but a fair bit of that nature is given away on the covers as well (not that I took that to heart: I wish I’d thought straight away to approach it like a book of poems rather than try to gulp all that emotion in larger chunks).

  • Aarti

    Wow. I have never had a pet before, so I admit I find it difficult to imagine a dog inspiring that depth of feeling. But if it is real, and it must be, then it is impressive she wrote about it in a way that isn’t trite like so many books about pets are. Lovely cover, too :)

  • [...] Buried in Print says that rather than the traditional beginning, middle and end narrative, Life is “all middle.” This maintains just that intensity that Crosbie is clearly going for, and is perhaps the reason [...]

  • [...] It’s not exceptionally-messy-unravelling (as, say, in Anne Enright’s The Forgotten Waltz or Lynn Crosbie’s Life Is About Losing Everything). [...]

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