Mini-review: Your Rightful Home by Alyssia Knickerbocker (Flatmancrooked, 2010)

Alyssa’s Knickerbocker’s YOUR RIGHTFUL HOME, a smart-looking chapbook from Flatmancrooked Press, starts off with a premise of dislocation, albeit an innocent one, that of dress up, one that threads throughout the novella.

To play dress-up, you have to believe in the power of the clothes. You are not you anymore. You are Snow White. You are Joan Jett. You are a pirate slave girl with shackles on your wrist. You are your mother, circa 1968. You are a bird. You are Lydia, sometimes, and she is you.

Lydia, as we come to find, is the narrator’s nine-year-old neighbor. The narrator is an eight-year-old girl told in second person. The girls play dress-up and princess in the little island town in Northwest Washington State where all matter of debris seems to collect on its shores rather than sail away: divorced mothers whose inner fire comes from the cherry of their cigarette and not much else, children that are half innocent, half ruined, a coin’s flip away to becoming either fully. After a misunderstanding about a heart bracelet that belongs to the narrator, Lydia disappears. Forever.

That is the first half of the novella—Lydia’s distraught mother, suspect father, news stations, police, and the narrator’s dazed and blinded mother, all flailing, trying to make sense of things, clinging to hope’s glimmer, surrendering to reality. Knickerbocker so artfully sweeps us along in the swirl of the narrative’s drain, and we’re riveted, hooked.

And then the second part of the novella starts. The narrator is in college. She is still processing Lydia’s death. She tried to to live a life for her, telling Lydia’s story to all who will listen. Then she gets married, has her own daughter, gets divorced, and finds herself back in the same island town in Northwestern Washington State. Will there be closure in this second act?

Although Knickerbocker is careful not to sew things up too carefully, the speed at which the second half of the novella unfolds leaves the reader dizzy and perhaps feeling a little cheated. And although we understand, perhaps sympathize, with the college-aged narrator’s incorporation of Lydia’s narrative into her own in that same self-absorbed way that all twenty-somethings think everything is about them, it’s disappointing that there’s no acknowledgment of her dubious intentions later. Nor it there any explanation of the narrator’s relationship with Lydia’s narrative now that she is an adult, a mother at that.

Although we feel this missed opportunity is a big one, in reality we just wanted more. Knickerbocker’s writing is so alluring, so seductive, that we don’t want the story to end just yet, with so many holes unfilled. But, maybe, in Knickerbocker’s sly way, that’s just the point.

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