LitFest 2015 Mini-Reviews: Girl in the Woods by Aspen Matis and Separation Anxiety by Miji Campbell

LitFest-2clr-cmyk-smallLitFest is Canada’s only non-fiction festival. One of these years, I’ll get a pass and go to everything, but this year The Femme Memoir Hour is my one and only. It’s tomorrow, Saturday October 24, at 1:00 p.m. at the downtown library, and tickets are still available.

The theme of this event is tenuous. Yeah, they’re all memoirs written by women, but so what? Is that enough to tie these books together? I’ve read two of the books (kindly provided by LitFest, many thanks) and while they share some themes of recovery, they really couldn’t be more different.

girlinthewoodsGirl in the Woods by Aspen Matis
Goodreads
3 out of 5 stars

Let me just get this out of my system: Girl in the Woods is Wild for millennials!!

That’s too simple and kind of condescending. It’s not Matis’ fault that Cheryl Strayed released Wild in 2012, presumably while she was writing Girl in the Woods. It’s not her fault that Strayed also had a traumatic past, that she also had a near-death experience on the trail, or that she also changed her name after her journey.

It also feels condescending to say I wish Matis, like Strayed, had waited longer and matured as a writer before writing a memoir, and yet. The book includes childhood pictures of Matis (…for some reason) labelled with dates in the late nineties, just in case you forget that she’s super young. The reminder is helpful though. Matis is maddeningly self-centered and dramatic, which is less annoying when you remember that she’s 18 years old when she begins her hike. And privileged. I mean, when the word “self-care” appeared I thought I was done. But I stuck around and remembered that duh, I was a privileged, dramatic, self-centered 18 year old myself, and Matis captures something true about that experience that’s hard to describe. And, she’s done something with all that privilege. Not the hike, the book. No one made her write a story about being raped. Imagine being known for the worst thing that’s ever happened to you. Then again, imagine reaching so many people who need to hear your story.

If you can push away the comparisons, and quit wishing that a teenager was more mature, which is silly, you will probably enjoy Girl in the Woods. It *is* well-written, well, a little over-written, but there are flashes of greatness. I appreciate what Matis did with her story and I’m really interested to see what she does next.

separationanxietySeparation Anxiety by Miji Campbell
Goodreads
2 out of 5 stars

Again, let me just get this out of my system: Separation Anxiety is Eat Pray Love without the eating, praying, or loving!!

It’s not fair to compare a book to EPL just because it’s a memoir by a woman who goes through a divorce. Well, comparing and contrasting. Like Elizabeth Gilbert, Campbell’s life is privileged and suburban and normal. Traditional wifely and motherly roles aren’t enough for her. Neither teaching nor freelance writing lead to fulfillment.  This is where you expect Campbell to travel the world à la Gilbert or hike through the woods à la Matis. But she doesn’t. She doesn’t really do anything.

Well, she suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder. That’s not nothing. A weird, dysfunctional relationship with her mother is referenced as a factor but never really explained. She has debilitating insomnia as a young adult. She marries and has children. She divorces her husband for some reason which isn’t clear. She meets a new guy but we’re told nothing about the when or the how. Eventually, she is unable to work or leave the house, but the stakes don’t seem very high. It feels wrong to say that, because of course the stakes were high; this is her life. But it didn’t come through in my reading.

Traipsing around the globe and hiking across the continent can be inspirational (or aspirational,) but they’re not reasonable for most. Realism is good! But, it turns out, you do need something to hang your story on. The combination of Campbell’s short, clipped sentences, jumpy timeline, and lack of narrative almost made this a DNF. The last chapters, in which she gets her shit together, were good. There was some drive to the narrative and we got to hear from other people.

I will say the design of this book is wonderful. I’ve had several people admire the cover and ask me about it. You know what they say about books and covers, though.

The Femme Memoir Hour is part of LitFest. Meet the authors this Saturday, October 24, 1:00 p.m. at Stanley Milner Library.

Come for the authors, or come to meet moderator Liz Withey and her friend Laverne. Thanks to LitFest for the review copies. I haven’t read the third book, The Prison Book Club by Ann Walmsley, but it sounds fascinating.

 

 

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2 comments

  1. Rick @ The Book-A-Week Project

    1) Ha! Halfway through your Separation Anxiety review, I was thinking, “That cover though…” Such a great design. Ironically, your negative take on it kind of made me want to read it. I kind of like that she doesn’t travel the world in an effort to shake up her system. That’s become a cliche and it’s so unrealistic for most people. But I also trust your judgment if it’s just not very good. Maybe if I find it on a sale table one day…

    2) From one non-professional blogger to another: your review of Girl in the Woods was fantastic. Its really hard to write about a book you don’t love or hate, and it’s commendable for you to find the reasons to like the book, instead of the ones you find to dislike it (which I’m incredibly guilty for). Just wanted to say I’m impressed.

    3) I didn’t know LitFest was the ONLY non-fiction festival in Canada. That seems crazy. Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto … get your shit together already.

  2. Naomi

    One of the things that appealed to me about Separation Anxiety is that the protagonist doesn’t really do anything. It seems so much like what most of us do when we have a problem. Just hope that it goes away. But, I guess it was a little too much nothing, huh? Do you think someone else could have written about the ‘nothing’ better, or do you think that ‘nothing’ just doesn’t work in a memoir? Maybe fiction would be better?
    I agree with Rick about your review of Girl in the Woods.
    Have fun at LitFest!

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