Thursday, April 5, 2012

Legs Get Led Astray: Essays by Chloe Caldwell

Legs Get Led Astray: Essays
by Chloe Caldwell

Chloe Caldwell's personal essays have a way of making me dissect my own life, whether I want to or not. I say 'me' instead of 'you' (though I bet it would be true for you too), and I am disregarding the editorial 'we.' Reading Legs Get Led Astray is not an abstraction — it is her voice and my brain having a conversation through the page. And though at times what I remembered through her past made me uncomfortable, it was only because I knew the feelings to be true. I enjoyed Legs Get Led Astray in the same way a song can hurt so good. Love, lust and loneliness — Over and over I say that is what I want to read and what I want to write, and this book makes me want to write.

I will give you a typewriter. I will not be able to keep my hands off of you. I will pick flowers and bring them to your windowsill. I will want to borrow your things. I will talk a lot around you because that I do around people I like. I will like you and maybe even love you.

--"Long May You Run"

Caldwell examines her relationships while she's still in the throes of them. Her essays talk about lovers, yes, but also about close friends, her parents, children she has cared for, and more than one instance of the Strand bookstore. Years of retrospect do not factor in here much — her feelings are still raw and maybe a little jumbled and maybe a little closer to the direct noise inside anyone's brain. Her heart swells and stretches, contracts and fractures, and her honesty is refreshing.

And do you remember that in the letter you write me, you told me that perhaps your love for me confused me into thinking you didn't have any love left over for anyone else? Did you forget you were actually really on par with that?
You say that you love me but that you love a lot of people.
You say that you have a lot of love.
You say that my mind is like an elephant's.

Caldwell also likes to know what people secretly think about. She likes other people's journals and emails, and seeing a person's face when they think no one else is looking. Or better yet, when they are oblivious to any world outside their own thoughts. It's voyeuristic, sure, but also somewhat anthropological. She seems to find it all very interesting — it's her own loop of personal reflection through someone else, and then she starts to write.

I like songs like [Rufus Wainwright's] "The Art Teacher," which, in four minutes, I feel like I've read a story. I've been sucked into this child's life — this child that turns into an adult with a broken heart. I feel like I've listened to a well-written essay, wherein I was given the creative freedom to fill in my own gaps.

But mostly I related because I know that I would have bought a painting I didn't love, if someone I was in love with loved it.

--"The Art Teacher"

Wrapped up in music and smells and drugs and strewn pieces of clothing, Caldwell writes from a place of longing for connection, while also yearning for distraction. Release. If you gathered all the songs she mentions throughout the book, you'd have a really good playlist. She is unafraid to admit when she's been fearful, when she's been the fuck-up, or when she judged too soon. But she also loves wholeheartedly, generously, and it's endearing. None of her stories come across like, "Hey, look at me shocking my audience!" No. She is writing to someone.

Is it you?

I purchased this book with my own fool money from Future Tense Books. You should too.


This review is part of Pajiba's Cannonball Read, in which participants aim to read and review 13, 26 or 52 books within one year. Though I'm taking things easier this year, I expect to surpass the 'Half Cannonball' distinction by the end of 2012.

This review also appeared at Persephone Magazine on April 12, 2012.

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