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.
... 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.
A lazy categorization would describe Body Work as 'part memoir, part craft book, part literary treatise.' But Febos’s work defies this kind of segmentation. Each of her books contains multitudes, seamlessly coalesced into a single truth-seeking missile. Her trademark magic is in the melding ... Febos offers a compelling rebuttal of the accusation that a memoir is simply a diary in print ... asks the fundamental questions with which our literature, and our culture, are currently grappling. Which version of the story is yours, which is mine, which is true? Is there room in our American house for more than one story, or more than one version of the same story?