A debut collection of personal essays from a Montreal-born writer.
Chew-Bose is fascinated by life and especially by her response to it. She loves movies, painting, her skin, her name, the sound of her voice, her heart, and just about anything that occurs to her. Her debut is a work of self-examination and memoir, a young writer’s songs of herself. She opens the collection with the ambitious, lengthy “Heart Museum,” which begins as a rumination on the physical and emotional durability of the heart and quickly sidetracks into a hyper-referential stream-of-consciousness stroll through every subject that strikes her fancy, from cinematography to old boyfriends to random family memories to writing. Possibly taking her cue from Chris Marker’s great documentary Sans Soleil, Chew-Bose seems bent on creating an essay that charts a surprising and compelling course despite having no obvious destination. Instead, it becomes an increasingly fetishistic ramble that flies off on various tangents. “Groping through the dark is, in large part, what writing consists of anyway,” she offers at one point, perhaps by way of explanation. “Working through and feeling around the shadows of an idea. Getting pricked. Cursing purity. Threshing out. Scuffing up and peeling away. Feral rearranging. Letting form ferment.” The trend toward navel-gazing continues in the subsequent essays, but some also profit from a sharper, more direct focus, especially when the author addresses what it means—as a young woman from an Indian family growing up in mostly white Canada—to come to terms with cultural identity: “Nothing will make you fit in less than trying, constantly, to fit in: portioning your name, straightening your hair, developing a love-hate fascination to white moms whose pantries were stocked differently than yours, who touched your hair, admiring ‘how thick’ it was.”
Chew-Bose is an intense observer and cataloger of sensations, but this type of literary impressionism, where self-discovery becomes self-absorption, wears thin.