“The Body Remembers” by Lacy M. Johnson: a necessary memoir

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Light The body remembers from Lacy M. Johnsonpublished NN Publisherit is an act of sincerity and courage: it is like holding a scalpel to surgically dig into our own flesh.

The book is part of the series The fugitives, is translated by Isabella Zani and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime; it was also selected among the best books of 2014 by Kirkus, Library Journal and Houston Chronicle.

The work is officially presented as memoirbut it is much more: it is the representation of the body as an opening, as an area and perimeter of eternal memory. To orient oneself in this book, it is necessary to cling firmly to the two concepts of body and memory, branded on each page.

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“It’s strange, I think now, the way even if the mind forgets, the body remembers. The way the body remembers unattached from the mind: the way of standing-beside or lying-under or sitting-on or getting up-from. The body remembers prepositions: one’s position in relation to other bodies ”. (p.38)

This is a novel of broken bodies, nerves and fibers; is a novel without first names, because each character is just another body: The Man I Live With, My First Husband, My Husband, My Older Sister, figures only outlined and never three-dimensional, functional to emotional geography of the protagonist.

The trauma it is the pulsating core of the story, but it does not intend to be the center of the book: the horror is in fact gutted in fragments and revealed page after page, without formal consistency. There is no linearity in the bookand the story is alternated with police investigation and at psychotherapy sessions.

Lacy M. Johnson,

Lacy M. Johnson,

It is the night of July 5, 2000 when Lacy M. Johnson manages to escape from the basement where the ex-boyfriend imprisoned her, intending to kill her. She he was twenty-two at the time of the kidnappingand he was her college teacher and then the man she lived with for years.

The relationship between the protagonist and her former partner is not told following a chronological criterion, but using brushstrokes and quick impressions: there are photographs of their holidays, the pescado in la Veracruzana that he prepares for them, the body of the man who sleeps with his back to her, sex, addiction and increasingly humiliating manipulationsin a crescendo that never gives the reader respite.

The author, with her style at times torrential and at times fragmentedfaces all the conflicting feelings that have studded life with the man who kidnapped her: “He who yells in my face all the time, distorts my words until they tell a story I’ve never heard before, as long as I doubt I me, until I give in from exhaustion “(p.81).

Lacy M. Johnson rejects the victim’s label and explores the most painful nuances of the relationship with the man, the attempts to please him, the desire to escapeall the moments when she tries to leave him but he always manages to get her back into his net. The relationship of subjection is described without filtersin a frank and liberating way, and the narrator offers the reader an x-ray of a mirror-relationship, functional to reflect the power of man.

The prose is viscerally linked to body impressions and often proceeds for images, very useful to give an idea of ​​the sensations of the narrator: “I become a puddle, I run from the sofa to the floor” (p.83).

The author denies any kind of judgment and tells us the story as it is, mercilesslywithout sparing anything and walking on the very narrow border that marks the relationship between victim and executioner “It’s easy to write that I’m afraid of him. It’s harder to write that he taught me to appreciate cinema, good food, and admit that I’m probably a writer because of him, because of everything that’s happened. It’s hard to admit that I loved him ”(p.74).

The protagonist, in spite of everything, he does not make a monster out of his executioner without any relationship with reality, as the translator points out in Note at the end of the book, but it also gives him the features of humanity.

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The body takes many forms in the story: abused body, sacrificed body, washed and groomed body that deludes itself to rise again the next day, in the dawn of a new beginning.

Lacy M. Johnson and writing as therapy

In the depths of the darkness of violence, however, the narrator claims her space for happiness: “I just want to be happy” is a mantra that is repeated several times, as if to finally reach a ransom and an atonement.

The body of Lacy M. Johnson he continues to remember and brood, to be afraid of friction with the bodies of others, but also to have a desire for another flesh capable of finally loving. The author will love other men, she will discover a non-toxic love and will also know motherhood.

In the narration of this motherhood, however, there is all the weight of the trauma: the fear of touching his children, the fear of being touched, the fear of touching them too much and hurting them. The body remembers everything, often does not recognize caresses and is afraid of contact, the body fears and desires the inevitable at the same time.

There writing it is another macro-theme of the memoir, because it is literally the salvation of the protagonist.

Every day that Lacy M. Johnson starts writing, she thinks she has started a better day and the reader follows her in this rebirth: for her, writing is therapy and healingpossibility to change the threads of its history.

Writing her book gives her elation and euphoria, because words allow her to return to feel the owner of that body that never stops remembering. Her writing gives her tears and fear, hope and redemption, but above all it gives her the courage to really observe her body for the first time.

The narration proceeds quickly and then goes back, goes on and then lingers. The last part of the book is the most painful but also the most compact: the final block of the memoir relives, in great detail, the day of the kidnapping and the escape from the man with whom he lived.

The reader observes the protagonist chained to a chair and sees her blood dripping, he feels the touch of the torturer’s hands popping on the woman’s naked body. All around there is white noise and the blue ceiling: the author’s prose provides a compass to orient oneself in the horror, colors that help not to lose lucidity and find a way out.

A wrist that is released, a chain that is loosened, a kaleidoscope of sensations and coldness; the legs leading to a door that is not locked, the quick reflexes and the silence. A last moment in which there is only darkness and solitude: the hand touches the door, caresses it, pushes it. The door opens and there is only one word in the mind: Come on.

The protagonist comes out of the nightmare and the reader also comes out of this storywithout ever really getting out of it, because every single word of this memoir is destined to testify to an eternal and burning memory.

The sincerity of this book is intolerable, almost an act of rudeness, but literature does not have the task of reassuring or giving answers, if anything it can raise new doubts and universalize individual experience. Lacy M. Johnson’s memoir is living and pulsating literature, because he is able to transfigure his own personal trauma without complacencysublimating the private memory of the body into collective memory.

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The article is in Italian

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