Everybody gets settled in layers sometimes: relentless sediments of little things that somehow pile up, broiling into a bodily pressure. Like a stone of fruit nuzzled at the back of your throat, or the constant feeling there is something you need to do, but don’t know how- a heavy mantle of blue. Blue that prickles and hisses from time to time, flashing hot points of red that peak to a frenzy- you petrify, then stutter. Words tumbling faster into nonsense, trying to outrun and mask the wildfire infection of nerves scrambling for safety in a place of dead ends.
Emotions are a spectrum, which we all tilt and glide upon, attempting revelation, to reach that sweet spot of happy sanity. The fact that knowledge and identity are so intimately bound in such a mercurial, turbulent realm as emotion/ feeling, the foundational impulse of life impossible to define or fluently articulate, is both the saving grace and damning fall of us all. Feelings are so important, but it is so hard for us to say what we mean, to define or describe or demarcate. Today’s book- The Terrible, by Yrsa Daley-Ward- has a remarkable literacy for tremulous inklings, sinewed vibrations of soul; and while the narrative events are specific and local to one person, the articulation of the emotion behind the person is something I think everybody could benefit from reading.
The Terrible is a pretty neat title encapsulating the ‘plot’- but really, there is no strict plot so far as the traditional rules apply. Daley-Ward uses poetry in all its various styles and modern applications to weave scenes, good and Terrible ones, to tell the story of a girl’s growth through childhood with her brother towards lonely adult life, all too familiar with pain. The way each poem functions as both a standalone piece and one part of a chain makes for a very compelling read, the pace is taut but always shifting in its moods.
Another element of the writing which I found beautiful was the role of imagination and fantasy, especially in episodes in the early part of the book. In order to cope with grim adult reality infiltrating their young souls, Little Roo and the main speaker (Yrsa) concoct sparkling realms of unicorns in the night and distant kingdoms where absent fathers are kings. It is a tender and magical touch of beauty in the sprawling chaos of lives ensnared in the grip of troubles- be that money as a Northern working class family, facing racism and misogyny (misogynoir) as a black girl/ woman, or problems finding and sustaining love when you’re used to feeling less than lovable.
Some parts of the book are incredibly difficult to read, especially knowing that the events are based in reality in some way. One episode that sticks with me is how the protagonist (Yrsa) behaves towards another stripper whilst working; the betrayal of female love and friendship for the dirty money of a nasty man is not something you can read without your heart hurting. The desolation and depression seems unbearable, but that only makes it all the more astounding that somehow, beauty was forged by Daley-Ward from it all. She survived the Terrible, in herself and the world, and she has crafted magnificence.
If you’re feeling some kind of way and don’t know how to say it I recommend this book; Daley-Ward has a striking clarity with the powerful, direct language that she uses, tempered by whimsical strains of tenderness and imagination to bring the harmony. If you are feeling down trodden, lonely or lost The Terrible will show you how one girl coped with it- that infinite, unspeakable place called the mind that we all have in common.
“You may not run away from the thing that you are
because it comes and come and comes as sure as you
breathe. As certain. The thing is deep inside your linings, way
down in the marrow. People have a lot of words for it…”