the chronology of water

The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch. Wow. Some book. One reviewer admits to considering throwing it across the room.

It’s a memoir, and the writing is uneven. But that fits the life it mirrors. Like the story out of which it grew, it’s

About fathers and swimming and fucking and dead babies and drowning. Written entirely in random fragments–how I understood my entire life. In the language–image and fragments and non-linear lyric passages–that seemed most precise.

A striking chapter tells the story of a hot pink Schwinn bike “with a banana seat and streamers coming out of the handlebars.” Her father brought it home to cheer her up after her sister left. She was ten and thought “it was perhaps the most beautiful thing I had ever seen…”

But she didn’t know how to ride a bike.

So when I came outside to touch the hot pink ride, beautiful as she was, all I felt was terror.

Besides being a hell of a story, this is a living, breathing object lesson. How a beautiful pink bike can also be an object of terror. How in a fictional world a bicycle could be beautiful to one character and terrifying to another.

She writes: “In water, like in books–you can leave your life.”

About the breakup of her second marriage:

I would have done anything for him. A love unto death. And…

Goddamn it.

I’m already lying. I’m making it all sound literary.

It was messier than that. A lot.

At the end of the book is an interview. Yuknavitch writes:

I do know that when I’m inside writing I don’t want to be anywhere else. It’s like being inside a song or a painting.

The Chronology of Water

Cross-posted at the Contrary Blog

14 thoughts on “the chronology of water

  1. This is a beautifully written post, Cynthia. This memoir sounds like a riveting read, but like the author approaching her pink Schwinn, I would approach a book of such raw honesty with some degree of trepidation. I might have to think about the harsh childhood events related to my own pink and white banana seat bike. Recently, Dylan Landis shared an interview on Facebook about why teens need to read about terror. “They read because they live in an often-terrible world.” I can handle fiction.


  2. Cynthia, I hope you will please consider revisiting this memoir with us over at The Lit Pub, because we’re reading it a chapter a day every Monday – Thursday. We have a few other featured titles there, too. Lidia is also known to make appearances in the comments. Check us out! 🙂


      • I bought it, read it, and it’s great. Wonderful, actually. Thanks. The opening, what she chose from so much, is particularly fine, a master stroke. (I keep trying to get the opening of my memoir right; thought I had it this, the fourth time, but my acute friend says No, not quite.) I could have enjoyed it ending 100 pages sooner, truthfully, though—after her award and New York trip. She wasn’t out of the woods, might never be, but had turned a definite corner. But then, I struggle with endings, too. My new ms. is 520 pages, so needs to be cut by about 220 . . . And my ending for her would have cut out the symmetry of her ending. Save it for the second memoir maybe? The kid is seven by then. Could start the second with his birth, but she’s still living the second and doesn’t know how it ends. Quibbles, personal, etc. Her voice and syntax are what’s amazing to me.


        • So glad you liked the book so much! And thanks for leaving this feedback. I really appreciate it. I agree that the end of the book was less riveting and less chillingly written, befitting its subject of normalcy. Perhaps it just should have been one chapter, though.


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