Among the epigraphs of Melissa Febos’s sophomore memoir, Abandon Me, is a quotation by English psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott: “It is a joy to be hidden and a disaster not to be found.”
“I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life to use that epigraph,” says Febos, who considered it for her critically acclaimed debut, Whip Smart, the chronicle of her experience as a professional dominatrix. “When I first read that sentence, it just fell to the bottom of the well of me and echoed for a really long time.”
Not until Abandon Me were the words a perfect fit.
“So much of this book is about the prismatic experience of being seen,” she says, “how excruciating it is and how starved we are for it—especially those of us who have an instinct for secrecy.”
Febos lives in Brooklyn and teaches creative writing at Monmouth University and the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her award-winning essays (including portions of Abandon Me) have appeared in Tin House, Granta, the Kenyon Review, and the New York Times.
Abandon Me is a sonorous collection of concentric essays rooted in personal experience. The daughter of a sea captain and a psychotherapist, Febos barely knew the birth father from whom she inherited Native American ancestry and a predilection for addiction. She hungers to understand her origins, her choices—including a visceral, long-distance love affair that takes a dark turn.
“My want was more gnash than kiss, more eat than embrace,” Febos writes. “.... Lust is an urge to consume and perhaps there is no true expression of it that does not imply destruction. I can’t say. But even my tenderness for kittens includes an impulse to put them in my mouth.”
Febos’ lyrical musings are intercut with astronomy, antiquity, and pop culture analyses—from Ferdinand the Bull to the musical fantasy film Labyrinth. The book’s cornucopian nature makes it hard to pin down in few words, which is why Febos decided to complete the manuscript before pitching it to agents and editors.
“It was so hard to be alone in that forest, no one patting me on the head for a long time,” Febos says of the writing process, “but it’s the happiest parable: sometimes in life you make a decision, and then the universe gives you a clear confirmation that that was the right decision.”
“I can say it’s about attachment,” she says. “I believe in titles, and Abandon Me is the best title that I ever came up with. There was foresight in it, because I do think if there is a word that holds everything that this book is, then ‘abandon’ is it—in every sense of the word.”
“We who fear abandonment are often the most capable of leaving,” she writes. “We build lives out of moveable pieces. Out of ourselves. It is a creative way to live, both variable and resilient, if sometimes lonely. The Captain built a life out of systems and stories that featured him in a fixed role: captain, hero, father, husband. He would not have left my mother for the same reason he could not leave his ship: he would have lost himself.”
With Abandon Me, Febos engages a process of self-discovery that confirmsan exceptional skill at illuminating universal truths.
“The primary goal of my own writing is to find my own understanding,” she says. “The second goal is to give that to other people in whatever way I can, and my best bet in earning the trust of my readers in is sticking to what I know, which is my own experience.”
Megan Labrise writes “Field Notes” and features for Kirkus Reviews.