Like much of the writing of Maggie Nelson and Sarah Manguso, among others, this is a book given over to the supremacy of the paragraph. Most of the blocks of text are short. Some are just a few lines. All are self-contained, entities in their own right: you feel the need to pause after each, breathe in the poetic sparseness. The work cleaves, too, to that of Jenny Offill, who also works in gappy fashion, with the white space between her textual fragments a fundamental aspect of her recent craft...
These are books that remind us – when we need it most – that we move in relationship rather than individual adventure, that the tender connections between our tears are all we really have to hold.
The broad range of her inquiry, which can move from Donald Trump (“‘I’m not a big crier’”) to Byzantine lycanthropy in the space of a sentence, is one of the book’s primary pleasures. But its scattershot nature disrupts the through-line it also wants to develop. Interspersing its impersonal elements (facts, trivia, anecdotes involving famous actors and thinkers) are episodes from Christle’s own life: being dumped in college, an abortion, a friend’s suicide, getting pregnant and the experience of motherhood. Accompanying her throughout all this is the waxing and waning moon that Christle calls her “despair”. She favours that word, she explains, because “depression and suicidal ideation and anxiety all cast a staged or laboratory light”, which seems to be both a confession and a withholding. This doubleness is problematic; a fault line at the heart of her book.
Like other poets who write non-fiction – Rachel Zucker, Alice Notley, Sarah Manguso, Maggie Nelson – Christle favours a fragmentary style, distilling her thoughts into tight, lyrical paragraphs that mostly punch above their weight. Mingling memoir with cultural criticism, and mining history, anthropology, science and poetry for diamond examples of teary interest, she spins the lot into a high-energy vortex. Sometimes your head is in a spin too, dizzy from all the clever ideas whirling. Other times, you wonder what it’s all for. Certainly, it’s interesting to learn of the differences between basal, irritant and psychogenic tears, or that fake-crying sometimes triggers the real thing. I was intrigued, too, by the student in the Netherlands who built a gun to collect and freeze her tears then shoot them out as icy bullets. She later presented it to a professor who’d made her cry.