I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl: A Memoir by Kelle Groom
Release date: 2011 / 231 pages
Synopsis (from the back cover): At the age of fifteen, Kelle Groom felt the calming, numbing embrace of alcohold as it warmed her chest, loosened her tongue, and allowed her to connect with people and explore intimacy.
First Sentence: Morphine makes me weightless, airborne.
Review: I recently finished a novel about marital infidelity that read like a journal or a diary – too private, too intimate – and the experience felt voyeuristic and uncomfortable. In contrast, Kelle Groom’s memoir, which started as personal journal, is intimate in a generous, revelatory way that enlightens the reader as Groom slowly becomes unburdened by her past.
Groom’s background as a poet is palpable from the first page – the images she uses to describe giving birth are powerful and surprising:
Morphine makes me weightless, airborne. Like a spider. I rest in a corner of the high ceiling, look down on my body on the white hospital bed. It is just one shot, one needle through my skin. But even nine months pregnant, my frame is small – the weight all baby. So the effect of the drug is a flood in my veins. I’d like to walk down the street feeling this light. I’d like to be a passenger in a dusty car on a dirt road, and see a veil of trees, the clearing inside. Graveyard of cars arranged in a kind of circle. All the engines lifted out, windows dull with dirt. In that clearing I know I could find evidence of things unseen.
Her arms are like bridges, transporting my son to me in this breathing world. I feel as though my vision could fill with white clouds at any moment, that I could fall to the floor. I feel that someone should be steadying me. But then the weight of him is in my hands. And it is like carrying him inside my body – something I already know how to do. There is no thought of letting go. The bones in my arms use all their hardness, my blood, my skin itself, all the force in my body holds him, will keep him safe against any harm.
The first person narration common in memoirs immediately ensures a connection with the reader – and when Groom gives up her baby to be raised by her aunt and uncle within the first few pages, her grief resonates viscerally – we are fully on her side and feel the loss as an injustice. This connection with Groom is crucial because soon the reader joins her on a dark, harrowing journey through addiction as a first-hand witness to the unraveling that so often marks Groom’s consciousness.
What saves this memoir from becoming unbearably painful is Groom’s lyrical prose. Groom states that she is “interested in a narrative that is lyrical, imagistic, sensory;” this style allows the reader to experience Groom’s life as a vortex of images that we witness as if on the other side of a pane of glass – as Groom herself seemed to experience her own life through alcohol:
Drinking is easier than I’d imagined, less dramatic. I feel myself cohere around a radioactive center, my arms reaching out like bright flowers. Where I end blurs.” 82
My vowels are too close together, but I’m upright. 64
Ochre, olive, iron, sand. Week and thistle. Backyard blown about by wind. At fourteen years old, in my room in El Paso, I could hear the dark outside. 73
In daylight, someone is always trying to catch and tie you, rope circling overhead. A wave folds back on my chest like a lapel. I’m small enough to be held in the hand of the ocean, so the ocean holds me.” Laughter just a way to orient ourselves in the dark, a jubilant echolocation. 80
I could be made of felt, cut into the shape of a woman – I keep arranging an expression on my face that is the opposite of crying. The opposite of something is cutting into me. 191-2
I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl is on regaining the son she lost, but the ultimate gain is in witnessing Groom reclaim her own life. Thank you to Shelf Awareness for sending me this fascinating memoir to read and review. Interested in winning a free copy? Drop me a comment below and I will choose a lucky winner by the weekend!