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On bodies and on memory: A memoir, a middle-grade epic and a poetry collection hit the shelves this month from some of San Diego’s emerging literary talents.
San Diego writers are crushing it lately, and here are three hot new releases (two on the same day!) from three San Diego writers.
‘What A Body Remembers’: A memoir of assault by Karen Stefano
Several years ago, Karen Stefano had settled into her life as a criminal defense lawyer in San Diego, but 30 years earlier was a victim herself. A violent, random attempted crime in 1984 while she was a student at UC Berkeley left Stefano riddled with fear, doubt and distrust.
Stefano is a gifted writer, critic, literary podcast host, interviewer and lawyer raised — and based — in San Diego. Though “What A Body Remembers” (Rare Bird Books) is her memoir debut, it’s her third book; her book of short stories, “The Secret Games of Words” was released in 2015, and a business writing guide, “Before Hitting Send,” was published in 2011.
While “What A Body Remembers” explores the interiority of trauma, memory, coping and even grief, the book never quite feels inhibited by the delicacy — and weight — of these matters. It reads like a juicy true crime, thanks in part to Stefano’s background. At the time of her assault, she worked as a UC Berkeley Police Department “aide,” a campus escort and police department assistant, who in the 1980s wore official police uniforms. Stefano felt invincible and powerful escorting female students from libraries to dorm rooms, despite the reality of being a still-teenage girl herself.
A key moment of collision between Stefano’s law enforcement muscle and the horror of her story is when frantically placing her own 911 call:
“From somewhere inside, a place I didn’t know existed, my training kicks into gear. Words spill off my tongue. Effortless. Machine like.
‘Two three three zero Blake Street. Penal Code 245. Direction of flight west bound on Blake Street, suspect on foot, less than a minute ago. Ready for a description?’ My voice is now perfect steel. I know the answers to her questions before she asks.
It’s when Stefano writes of her adult life in criminal defense law that she is able to begin to unpack how the system failed her as a victim, and pages fly as she begins to delve into a particular 30-year-old crime.
This highly researched exploration of memory and trauma is vulnerable and gripping. Stefano will celebrate the book’s launch in Los Angeles this month, followed by some national tour dates and then readings in San Diego in the fall.
‘All of Me’: A middle-grade novel in verse by Chris Baron
“All of Me” (Macmillan imprint Feiwel & Friends) is a new middle-grade novel by Chris Baron, famous in many San Diegan’s hearts for his work as a professor at City College. “All of Me” isn’t your average novel: This 312-page book tells the story of an adolescent boy struggling with body image and incessant teasing for his weight. It’s also written entirely in verse.
Ari, our hero, recently endures a cross-country move with his parents, the state of their marriage vague to Ari but clear to the reader. His mother is referred to sometimes as his mom and sometimes as The Artist. His father is rarely in the story but also integral to the story in scattered brief appearances that buoy a son with hope.
Ari’s voice is troubled and desperate for belonging, yes, but also inquisitive, loving and funny. He’s a narrator who clings to hope as well as worthlessness. His eventual friendships are intense and joyous, but riddled with what’s left unsaid.
“I get up, walk over to him.
In my mind is the rhythm of some speech
I will never give.”
Baron tackles fatness and the pressure (internal and external) to change Ari’s body with a raw interiority that balances crass frankness (“When I sit down/my sides squirt out from my pants”) with emotion and vulnerability (“but I wonder/what it would mean/if I actually lose half/of who I am?”).
Baron’s writing is quick-witted and full of depth, allowing complicated characters to navigate growing up, identity and struggling with heavy things — not just body image and bullying but absent parents (“I think about how maybe/my father was the heaviest/part of me”), self-harm, faith, first loves, interrupted friendships and more. The book is compelling, hopeful and a total page-turner.
Baron launches “All of Me” this Saturday afternoon at Mysterious Galaxy.
‘Our Debatable Bodies’: Poetry by Marisa Crane
Finishing off this local round-up of body-centric debuts is a poetry chapbook by prolific poet and short fiction writer Marisa Crane, “Our Debatable Bodies” (Animal Heart Press).
Crane’s poetry is somewhere between no-nonsense and intensely, lyrically beautiful. Each piece vacillates between irreverence, fear and shouldered trauma but also with a profound sense of love.
In the poem “In An Alternate Universe Our Worst Fears Have Come True & I Am So Glad We Are Here & Not There,” Crane tackles purple dildos, fertility, hope but also a sense of fragility. Each phase begins with “& if you see her,” evoking how the narrator doesn’t just fear but assumes an impending loss, that a love experienced is a love likely to leave.
The poem “A Man at A Party Tells Us He Votes Republican But Assures Us He Is Socially Liberal,” starts with sass, an approachable and relatable joke, but the narrator quickly takes the weight of queer judgment home. “When we get home/we brush our debatable teeth/wash our debatable faces/undress our debatable bodies.”
Crane celebrates the launch of “Our Debatable Bodies” at The Whistle Stop on June 19, and also at Winston’s in OB on June 25.