Trifection: Kristen Millares Young’s Subduction, Jessica Hendry Nelson’s If Only You People Could Follow Directions, and Lorraine Dorn’s Phrasebook for the Pleiades
Event Review by C.V. White
When I hear the word “Trifecta,” I don’t think of horses and betting slips. To me, it sounds like “three” and “perfect”: Trifection.
On a Thursday evening at the Vermillion Art Gallery & Bar, where the art is as viscerally demanding as the barkeep is warm and kind, three women read from their new collections. And for an hour we were all close to perfection.
Trifecta made it clear that Kristen Millares Young, Jessica Hendry Nelson, and Lorraine Doran are stunning authors who will go on to become noted for their craft. While each woman’s work is completely different in form, style, and tone, they are all inimitable in their remarkable voice and fierce delivery.
Kristen Millares Young opened the evening with a chapter from her upcoming novel, Subduction, which “follows an ill-fated affair between an anthropologist and a hoarder’s son on the Makah Indian Reservation, an old whaling village in Neah Bay, Washington.” Her writing is a consistent barrage of action, regret, awareness, and characters who slice their way out of their life and into your own.
Subduction is an ideal title, as her work lives best above, below, and at that strange place where the surface demands that you chose between them. At this reading, her words delineated a pragmatic world that laid everyone on the table equally as naked. The only thing more uncovered was how these cold realities of life lead to the “lies we tell ourselves so we don’t have to change.”
As a journalist who consistently writes insightful, thoroughly researched articles, it’s hard not to be impatient to see what her fictive hand will do with both truth and lie, betrayal and need.
Lorraine Doran closed the evening with poems from her Cider Press Review Book Award winning book, Phrasebook for the Pleiades. It was a night for poets, as the Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference crowd crowed late into the night. Yet Doran proved herself to be one of those impeccable poets who doesn’t need to scream or pontificate, doesn’t need to fancy it up or dumb it down.
Doran’s words reek with the concrete stuff of life. The stuff that sees and is, without any need for decoration or performative emphasis. It’s easy to mistake her works for sudden fiction or fast dreams.
She describes her work best in her own words:
We leave behind scenes others come upon and wonder
what happened. The bird becomes a god
the world forms around. Broken glass takes
the shape it once made as it lit the way back.
And between Kristen Young’s life-brimming characters and Lorraine Doran’s handworn movements, Jessica Handry Nelson caught everyone off guard with something honest as a definition and legitimate as a death-howl.
Nelson’s If Only You People Could Follow Directions, is as much a map to hell as it is a landscape of childhood. We all remember what we lost, but she does more closely, and she’s lost a lot more.
Nelson reads like there are fireworks going off in her gullet and there’s a smoke detector nearby. Her book is the kind that new writers read and immediately ask themselves, “Where’s my integrity? Where’s my fucking soul?”
And that’s likely Nelson’s problem. Too much soul.
If that’s really a problem.
Her reading centered around the first installment in a book of fourteen, titled “Prologue: A Letter to Eric.” And the entire time, her warm voice resonated with what I would learn later was the truth.
Every time she gives the year in this narrative, her father is somewhere else; Another rehab, another jail cell, another halfway house, or even worse and better, at home. Every time she gives the year, her brother, Eric, is either incredibly close, as in childhood when they are both “lumps” hiding under bedsheets; Or he is at the arms reach of adolescence, as they both get stoned and drive around in reverse. Or, finally, her only sibling is somehow completely gone, taking on the role of his father before him.
And Nelson is here for this, unflinching. After she’s said “Here’s to” over and over, blessing and releasing her past, she closes by lifting her verbal glass and saying:
“Here’s to our dead, flickering in and out of focus, like ashes from long extinguished volcanoes that somehow make it across time and oceans to land in our cereal. Something like that.”
Yup. Something like that.
Nelson’s collection is the bandage that rips the flesh off with it, and we are the injured child that absolutely cannot look away. And we shouldn’t.
There’s no need to close our eyes because this kind of an author gives us a reason to see.
With her own honesty, she gives our own truth back to us.
And that, that is a perfect gift.
Trifecta: A Reading with Kristen Millares Young, Lorraine Doran, and Jessica Handry Nelson.
Vermillion, Capitol Hill, Seattle WA
February 27th, 2014
Reviews, praise, and where to buy Jessica Hendry Nelson’s, If Only You People Could Follow Directions
And when you’re in the neighborhood, check out Seattle’s Vermillion Art Gallery & Bar