Legs Get Led Astray by Chloe Caldwell
Future Tense Books, a small outfit out of Portland, Oregon is up to something. Over the past few years they’ve been regularly publishing intelligent and provocative books. Editor Kevin Sampsell, an author and avid champion of the indie lit scene, is the head honcho. His latest pick, Legs Get Led Astray by Chloe Caldwell, might be the turning point of the relatively young publisher’s history.
The slim collection, released in April, containing 25 non-fiction essays, range from the melancholy and devastating to the hilarious and quirky. The majority of the essays found in the book have appeared, in various forms, on the internet in such places as The Rumpus, Nylon Magazine, The Nervous Breakdown, Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Freerange Nonfiction, and The Faster Times. Caldwell is also the founder and curator of the Hudson River Loft Reading Series.
Going into the book I wasn’t sure what to expect. I hadn’t read any of Caldwell’s work before. I thought I had a decent grasp on how women of my generation thought. By the end of the second story I realized I knew nothing. Mostly taking place in Brooklyn, with occasional stops in the Northwest, upstate New York, and Berlin, the emotional depth and breadth of Caldwell’s essays can’t be contained by geography.
I finished the book in one sitting, pen and paper in reach to make notes. As the book progressed a funny thing happened: I forgot about the pen and paper, forgot about reviewing the book and became immersed in her world of adolescent memories and tales of fumbling through her twenties in a fog of rotating characters, drugs, and emotions. I came back to the book for a second read through because the book deserved another look. I needed to properly contextualize what I had digested just a few days prior. The book started to take shape, reminding me of a giant jigsaw puzzle being put into place with each sentence, each emotion conveyed, each truth splattered onto the page.
Caldwell’s voice is strong and unique but it’s her use of language, the manipulation of words that turn her stories into something magical. There’s a music to this book, a soundtrack that, if you’re quiet enough, you’ll hear ever so slightly in the background.
I suspect the mark of a good book, for me at least, is the author’s ability to conjure up emotions in me. Legs Get Led Astray did just that. I felt so many things while reading, emotions battling against each other, vying for supremacy. Caldwell’s grasp on her own past, her ability to remove the lens of hindsight that sometimes fogs non-fiction makes this collection one of the best I’ve read this year.
Her words jump off the page, forcing you to pay attention, to grip the spine of the book tightly and hold on for dear life. By the end I felt as though I knew Caldwell and was brought back to the turn of the century with her witty and acute pop culture references. At times I could hear the conversations yelled over the music at parties, I could smell the weed emanating from the bong, could feel her desperation. For all that and more, I’m grateful to Caldwell for having the courage to let me in on her life, if only for a few hundred pages.