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Her Other Mouths.

Lidia Yuknavitch. House of Bones, 1997. 120 pp. Paper: $8.95.

Lidia Yuknavitch's first collection of stories is a collision between language and the body. Slowing down to gaze unflinchingly at the wreckage, her stories examine the wounds inflicted by need, desire, rage, and stifled communication. The mouths of her title are savagely mute; the psychic wounds of her protagonists find expression only in the physical wounding of themselves and others. Self-mutilation, scarification, and drug injection carve new mouths in the flesh of her characters, who, often, turn their rage outward and torture others. These mouths gnash, curse, and bite, but rarely do they speak: the private language of these women's other mouths goes unheard by others. As Dora, a reappropriated version of Freud's famous case study, observes in a letter to the painter Francis Bacon: "I don't want to talk anymore since that's not what mouths are for." Throughout the collection, Yuknavitch knowingly pirates Freud's vocabulary of orifices and repression and plays it off against Bacon's gallery of mutilated figures with voracious mouths. Even in stories which do not turn on a violent image--such as "Chronology of Water" or "Strata"--painful memories of the body's experience are never far from the surface. Biography, Yuknavitch suggests, is nothing but the story of a body, and can only be told through corporeal means. Yuknavitch herself writes in an unsparing prose, a difficult mixture of painful lyricism and staccato abstraction which voices her characters' desperate inarticulacy. Substituting violence and pain for expression and understanding, Yuknavitch attempts to clear space for a new sort of understanding and beauty. There is little room for irony in her prose, and virtually no humor, but her female protagonists emerge with a sympathy which defies the brutal silence in which they live. When we are privy to the secret writings of a heroin addict who has been taken as a subject for a sociological study, or find that a sixteen-year old self-mutilator understands her motivations much more clearly than her psychiatrist ever could, we see that Yuknavitch's characters are looking beyond language to a place where there are no thoughts without a body and where the only words are wounds.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Review of Contemporary Fiction
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Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Fraser, Graham
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1997
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