... an explanation of why stories like Febos’s are powerful, and moreover, why they take so much work. In their attempts to write in the confessional form, my students inevitably encounter dilemmas—including struggles over sentence sequencing and the fear of problematic ex-boyfriends reading their work—that Febos wants to help resolve ... Febos maintains an emphasis on form that is nicely balanced throughout the book by some charming, low-level woo-woo ... Even when Febos reaches a thesis that I disagree with, I’m persuaded by her argument for the need for creative honesty ... Body Work helped me learn how to work alongside and through my ongoing pain by forging a creative outlet. I’m grateful to Febos for the lesson in how to do it.
In her new book, Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative, memoirist Melissa Febos handily recuperates the art of writing the self from some of the most common biases against it: that the memoir is a lesser form than the novel. That trauma narratives should somehow be over—we’ve had our fill ... Febos rejects these belittlements with eloquence ... In its hybridity, this book formalizes one of Febos’s central tenets within it: that there is no disentangling craft from the personal, just as there is no disentangling the personal from the political. It’s a memoir of a life indelibly changed by literary practice and the rigorous integrity demanded of it ... Febos is an essayist of grace and terrific precision, her sentences meticulously sculpted, her paragraphs shapely and compressed ... what’s fresh, of course, is Febos herself, remapping this terrain through her context, her life and writing, her unusual combinations of sources (William H. Gass meets Elissa Washuta, for example), her painstaking exactitude and unflappable sureness—and the new readers she will reach with all of this.
Although the essays in what is arguably [Febos'] latest act of service to that questionable project are all personal narratives themselves (as opposed to straight-up craft essays with clear dos and don'ts for the aspiring or practicing writer), they also provide practical and philosophical arguments for the expansiveness that such narratives allow and for their power in the world ... Rather than believing the narrative that stories of trauma are dull or overdone or whiney or gauche, Febos encourages her readers to tell their stories, to write them, for themselves or others. In this way, Body Work, is in itself an example of the strength of personal narrative; it's also an argument for how such narratives inevitably create space for community as well as a freer self.