Verge by Lidia Yuknavitch

Dark stories about the disregarded misfits of the world force readers to look at “the in-between of things” and see beauty there, too.

Lidia Yuknavitch (The Book of Joan; The Chronology of Water) evokes a wide range of strong and subtle emotions with Verge: Stories, a collection dealing with “the spaces between things.” These stories are shocking, stark, pulsing; their power lies in their realism, even when the tone turns dreamy and approaches magical realism. Yuknavitch’s clear voice, with its unflinching demand that her readers recognize pain as well as beauty, is as precise and distinctive as ever.

“Verge” as a noun means an edge or border; as a verb, to approach (something) closely; be close or similar to. Here, Yuknavitch pushes readers to approach closely the uncomfortable edge of many subjects they may be accustomed to avoiding. Addicts, sex workers, traumatized children and adults, queer people, immigrants and other misfits are centered in narratives that some people might like to look away from, but shouldn’t, and in Yuknavitch’s compelling and often oddly lyric telling, readers can’t. She writes about the bright points in a dark world, and while the stories in Verge indeed lean decidedly toward the dark, those memorable points of light define them.

The earthshaking opening story, “The Pull,” features a swimmer whose “shoulders ache from not swimming” in wartime, one of two sisters “twinning themselves alive.” It feels as if set in a world far from the average everyday–until the final, heart-dropping line. Verge most frequently features female characters, but some male, including a couple of tender stories starring gay men. There are traumas–violent, sexual, emotional–and revenge, as well as quiet recoveries and acts of grace and mercy.

Other stories deal with children employed as black-market organ runners; men working at a fish processing plant in Seattle; a man seeking recovery both physical and psychological in an eye-opening cross-country drive. In “Shooting,” a woman’s want feels “like a mouth salivating… like the weight of an arm. Like the next sentence.” In “Street Walker,” a woman makes a telling slip in confusing one word for another. In “The Eleventh Commandment,” a strange girl protects an awkward, bullied boy using the power of story. In “Cosmos,” a janitor at a planetarium collects the detritus left behind by teenagers, building his own model world, until he finds himself perhaps overinvolved in his own work. In the longest story, “Cusp,” a young woman wishing to connect with her brother reaches out to the men in a newly constructed prison. In “Second Language,” “those bought-and-sold Eastern European girls are learning [something] besides English: They are learning to gut themselves open so that others will run.”

Disturbing and essential, these stories emphasize the forgotten, the pushed aside, the marginalized. Yuknavitch’s storytelling is urgent, raw and inspired, and if Verge is a love letter to those on the edge, it is equally important for all of us.

This review originally ran in the January 10, 2020 issue of Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade. To subscribe, click here.

Rating: 8 elevated tunnels made from cans and paper.

2 Responses

  1. […] “The Pull” by Lidia Yuknavitch (from Verge) […]

  2. […] (Verge; The Chronology of Water) moves between worlds as her chapters follow different characters in turn. […]

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