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13 Jan 4:00am

I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness by Claire Vaye Watkins review – escape routes

The Guardian
A woman leaves her husband and newborn daughter in this autofictional study of loss set in California “I wanted,” says the narrator of Claire Vaye Watkins’s second novel, “to behave like a man, a slightly bad one” – and if ever there was a sentence to put on a tote bag, it’s this one. Which woman hasn’t, at times, longed to adopt the kind of smiling mediocrity men take for granted? But what is mediocrity in a man is unforgivable in a woman; worse if she is also a mother. And so we find ourselves boxed in by circumstance; and the worse the circumstance, the smaller the box. This is the territory Watkins explores, and she does so powerfully, resisting the need either to sentimentalise or apologise. Shortly after the birth of her first child, the novel’s narrator walks out of her home, taking her breast pump, but leaving behind her husband and daughter. Leaving, too, her middle-class academic’s life to return to the California she grew up in, a place of chaotic poverty and casinos, OxyContin and coyotes and desert. This imploding narrator’s name, it becomes evident, is Claire Vaye Watkins. Fictional Watkins shares at least some biographical details with author Watkins – a mother called Martha; a father who first procured girls for, and then gave evidence against,
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