The Nightmare: On Life is About Losing Everything
Reviewed in this essay: Life is About Losing Everything by Lynn Crosbie. House of Anansi, 2012.
Last year I wrote a blog post about how rotten I felt getting older. I laid bare my fear of being alone and acknowledged losing the power that youth gives women. I quoted Anne Sexton: “Live or die, but don’t poison everything.” I found those words again near the end of Lynn Crosbie’s Life is About Losing Everything.
The narrator of this emotionally difficult book is a woman alone. Lynn is in her 40s, self-described as fat, drinking to excess and doing all the Class A drugs, and having sex with various unsuitable men, all to assuage the “loneliness that is a hole that wants to be filled by anything dark and terminal.” Her apartment is messy and described in places as wet and stained. She has spent too much time on her own, feeling unlovable, unable to stop pushing away those friends who haven’t died yet. It is the condition women have been taught to fear most.
Lynn remembers the hubris of youth, of thinking that wrinkles are the signs of a life well lived, instead of an inevitable marker that shows a woman is ageing out of fecundity — and thus, supposedly, desirability to men. By never having a baby, Lynn hasn’t fulfilled the destiny mainstream society expects for women, though women now attached to her exes have: “Feeling a bit angry that they all had children. (Those children should be mine! I sometimes seethe.)” The feeling is that children would have kept those men tethered to her, or at least have been there to keep her company when the men left. Of her youth, she says “I was sick and glorious; I wallowed in dirt and vomited stars.” This is the purview of young women. As you age sickness is far less intriguing but rather seems frightful and crone-like. “I used to think old women were lonely and poignant, but they were just tough,” she writes. For Crosbie it seems, “tough” is not strong. Strong fights back, but tough is beaten, worn, used, frustratingly unsinkable. A possible summation appears in a piece called “Alcohol, Addiction, Mania”: “Her narratives are ‘hallucinations’ produced by alcohol’s adherence to necessity, to the functional labour of forgetting.”
Life is About Losing Everything courageously recounts an ugly side of life. Middle-aged women suffer from erasure in our culture, and those approaching it sometimes seek surface cures for the insult. This book is a challenge: it takes time to grapple with life’s lack of over-arching narrative; the pieces are not precisely poems, though they are faster than short stories. Metaphors become true in the midst of drugs, alcohol, and crushing loneliness, while making perfect sense is a forgotten luxury. Lynn is in the middle of a depression that “ferries you to an underworld of unimaginable cruelty that operates every minutes of every day.” Rewards here exist not in a happy ending, but in surviving.