Author Lee Kofman has done a fine job curating and editing the collection of creative non-fiction essays about ‘leaving, loss and new beginnings’ in the anthology Split (Ventura Press 2019). A cornucopia of well-known names features in Split, each contributing a very different take on the notion of splitting, whether from someone, someplace or something, or even perhaps from some part of themselves.
The writing in this collection is consistently of a very high standard. Some contributions are more literary in style, some more academic, and some are more colloquial, but all are engaging, compelling and thought-provoking. The personal essays are about transformations and the powerful, funny, poignant, joyful or tragic aftermaths. Each writer explores their own particular experience with candour and honesty, often vulnerability, seeking a truth about what has occurred.
Lee Kofman contributes not only a personal essay, Bruised, but a thoughtful introduction to the anthology. In this foreword, she examines her discomfit with a certain type of redemptive ending common in current narratives: closure, acceptance, personal growth and happy endings. She proposes that while these types of stories are more palatable, they imply that if only the people involved ‘learn their lesson’ or become sage, astute or wise, this will result in a perfect ever after. Instead, she is open to hearing storytelling that has room for ‘doubt, setbacks, unredeemable failures’ that don’t ‘give rise to unrealistic expectations’; she asks that if we don’t recover and improve from our experiences, does that mean ‘have we then failed? And should we keep these ‘failures’ to ourselves, as shameful secrets?’ She admires the ‘humility and realness of narratives about defeat’. In the whole messy business of life, isn’t it just as authentic to tell the stories of our ongoing grief and defeat about aspects of our lives, alongside our happier endings? She sought essays about ‘breaking up – severing ties – with anyone/anything deeply meaningful to you’, regardless of how the split happened, and what shape life has taken in the aftermath. And the response by writers was varied – some spoke of lovers or jobs, geographic spaces or identities, some used philosophy, fairytales, or the ugly viscera of real life. The result is a tender and vulnerable reckoning of the human condition from a variety of perspectives, comfortingly and familiarly unresolved, as most of our lives are.
Kofman’s Bruised is a dark tale of passion, violence, desire and how we can allow ourselves to be subsumed by another. Graeme Simpson writes of his childhood and his investigation into whether or not he is – or once was – a person with autism. Virginia Peters tells a chilling tale about her daughter’s lover, which resonated strongly with me and is a frighteningly open and vulnerable account of what we fear regarding our children’s relationships with others. Alice Pung writes of her childhood, her family, their Shop, her culture and familial expectations. There are moving contributions by Gabrielle Lord, Myfanwy Jones, Peter Bishop, Kerri Sackville, Sunil Badami, A. S. Patric, Hayley Katzen, Damon Young, Dmetri Kakmi, Fiona Wright and Kate Goldsworthy. Forget Me, by Sami Shah, is a poignant and shocking story of the loss of self through the grandiosity of statehood and religion, and the subsequent loss of culture and nationality. In Goodbye and Good Luck, Ramona Koval writes of her split with the Corporation, her beloved ABC, after being a fixture for decades, and summaries this collection best with the quote from Ovid: ‘Be patient and tough; one day this pain will be useful to you.’ And the book concludes with an essay from Kate Holden called Clinging. Rather than splitting, Holden’s contribution is all about the desire to hold on, to gather, to hoard and accumulate and possess.
I enjoyed every single essay in this collection and could practically feel the emotions seep from the pages, the anguish, the desire, the sensuality, the pain, the heartache, the determination, the frustration, the recognition and the remembering. Rarely do you come across a book in which the authors so brutally slice open their chests and reveal their beating hearts. The truth and the vulnerable exposure of their stories ensure this collection is uncomfortable and disquieting, but also reassuring in its candour.