Proximal longing: Motherlunge
a review by Rachel Marston
New Issues Press 2013
Whenever I encounter Kirstin Scott’s debut novel Motherlunge, I misread the title as motherlung. This language play fits the book with its own explorations of language and particularly the language of the body. Lunge can mean a sudden forward movement, a thrust, and lung, of course, is that with which one breathes. Lunge may also be read as long, for longing, a mother longing, the longing for a mother and to be a mother. Scott’s novel explores the desire for (and fear of) familial proximity, as well as the ways in which those with whom we live, have sex, share genetic coding, or even ourselves are the least knowable quantities. This kind of closeness is desired, but never precious, such as when the fetus is described as “nestling against your intestines, bending her ear to the music of digestion.” The body is an instrument and often a very practical one.
Thea, the narrator of the novel, wryly quantifies and describes the world, whether in using letters from men’s magazines to characterize her first sexual experiences or through medical terminology used throughout the book as a way to categorize, understand, but also distance. Language is a way of knowing. In one section, Thea implores her unborn daughter, the second-person addressee in the book, writing:
“You have a vagina and please: it’s not a general region. It’s not just down there,
or just your privates. And despite what they will probably tell you at daycare, it’s
not your pee-pee. . .So let’s be specific, just as your body is specific – or will be
eventually, anyway –containing two hundred and six bones, ten visceral organs,
and sixty thousand miles of blood vessels. Let’s not not know. Because you do.”
Thea then details the vulva, the labia, the uretha, and the clitoris: “O nucleon, keloid, tapioca bead! O lemondrop, dot matrix, glycosylated tack. Take your time learning about the clitoris, customize your approach; its job is joy.” The book takes pleasure in the roundness, specificity, and play of language. It is female sexuality absent romanticism, tender, but not sentimental in representing the loss of virginity, desire, and motherhood.
Motherhood is a tricky and inconsistent thing. Dorothy, Thea’s mother, remains lost on a distant sea of despondency, her depression summoned by the birth of her first daughter, Pavia. Dorothy only desires sleep. Pavia’s pregnancy and the birth of Xavier (or X, as he is frequently rendered, something to be solved for, another unknowable quantity, a mathematical notation) threaten Pavia’s steadiness and reliability.
But X offers Thea a way to understand the failings, impossibilities, and improbabilities of love. She kisses his cheeks “and the feel of them on [her] lips made [her] want to eat him, smash him, smother him.” She understands, though, that she “couldn’t love him like [she] wanted to . . . We would get closer but would never arrive; we were lines striving for zero, asymptotic.” Still, there is the lunge, a long thin cord, a tenuous connection, a tug of longing, always urging the attempt.
Rachel Marston’s fiction and nonfiction has appeared in Event, The Collagist, and Puerto del Sol, among other journals. She received her Ph.D. in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Utah. She is an Assistant Professor of English at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University in Minnesota. Her first winter in Minnesota has exposed her to the wonderful world of hot dish, below zero temperatures, and meat raffles.