Melissa Febos: Abandon Me

In her critically acclaimed memoir, Whip Smart, Melissa Febos laid bare the intimate world of the professional dominatrix, turning an honest examination of her life into a lyrical study of power, desire, and fulfillment.

In her dazzling Abandon Me, Febos captures the intense bonds of love and the need for connection — with family, lovers, and oneself. First, her birth father, who left her with only an inheritance of addiction and Native American blood, its meaning a mystery. As Febos tentatively reconnects, she sees how both these lineages manifest in her own life, marked by compulsion and an instinct for self-erasure. Meanwhile, she remains closely tied to the sea captain who raised her, his parenting ardent but intermittent as his work took him away for months at a time. Woven throughout is the hypnotic story of an all-consuming, long-distance love affair with a woman, marked equally by worship and withdrawal. In visceral, erotic prose, Febos captures their mutual abandonment to passion and obsession — and the terror and exhilaration of losing herself in another.

At once a fearlessly vulnerable memoir and an incisive investigation of art, love, and identity, Abandon Me draws on childhood stories, religion, psychology, mythology, popular culture, and the intimacies of one writer’s life to reveal intellectual and emotional truths that feel startlingly universal.

How do I know a book deserves an automatic five-star rating? When I have eight pages of quotes in my journal. EIGHT.

I could have copied this whole book down and still needed to go back and copy it all again. Melissa Febos’ prose is FLAWLESS. God. It’s so beautiful that I can not find a single thing to criticize.

It is also DRIPPING with sex.

In fact, most of the negative reviews on Goodreads say something like “Why does this book have to be so sexual?” Um, guys, you picked a book by dominatrix…did you expect something G rated?

This isn’t so much about her time as a sex worker–that’s another book–but about every other loaded section of her life. As she puts it:

“I am Puerto Rican, but not really. Indian, but not really. Gay, but not really. Adopted, but not really.”

The memoir’s story follows her abusive relationship with a married woman and her constant struggle to escape it. She details her addiction to self-harm, then alcohol, then drugs, and then love–all in an effort to gain control over her own body. We get to know, some along with her, the heartbreakingly damaged people in her life.

But the most important point of this book is how she teaches us of the incredible psychological trauma of the Indigenous Peoples of America. At one point, she has a conversation with her agent about how no one wants to read about Native Americans, that she should write something more akin to her dominatrix book, something about her–urban and edgy. So she does just that with this book–writing her love story, but still managing to weave in Native American history in every stop that is made, and let us know just how that genocide and erasure has affected the people we have tried so hard to push down.

Prove that agent wrong. Order this book immediately, guys. It’s sexy, it’s beautiful, it’s IMPORTANT. There are LGBTQIA+ and Native and POC people everywhere in this. And you know, that agent is right about one thing–we don’t see too many Native American authors–but that shouldn’t mean a lack of wanting them published. We need more stories like this, and we can start with Melissa Fabos. GO ORDER THIS BOOK, YA’LL.

NetGalley and Bloomsbury provided this ARC for an unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.

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MYSELF

MYSELF

You were holding something of mine,
Something in a closed, grey box,
And I couldn’t see what was inside until
I took it from you and
Laid it on the table.

The light from the window
Illuminated the box on the
Dark wood table–

I opened the lid.
I saw the child.
Burned.
A baby, as long as the inside of the box–
Crisp, dead, like petrified wood.

I didn’t want to believe.

I didn’t want to take the lid all the way off
And I didn’t want to touch the baby
And I didn’t know how to look at her.
But I didn’t want to give her away.

I handed the baby to
My father
And knew the lid needed to stay on.
He mustn’t see it–
This burned child;
He would only turn away in disgust.

I didn’t want him to be ashamed
Of me,
So I took it back.
I took her away from him
Because he really didn’t want her anyway.

I blew a small patch of skin onto her face,
And another by her ear,
Near the jawbone.
And I covered her body with a soft blanket.
A grey-blue blanket.

I picked her up
Out of the box,
Inside the blanket,
So I didn’t have to touch her burned skin
And I held her
And I knew I didn’t want you to have her, either.

I knew you wouldn’t know what to do with her.
You made sure she remained burned.
I made sure you kept her like petrified wood.

Where else could she go?
If she wasn’t burned,
If you didn’t hold her,
If the lid didn’t stay on the box,
If you didn’t keep her burned body inside the box
Where could she go?

Would it be all right if I held her?
Would the two of us have to remain alone
Forever?

What else,
My husbands,
My lovers,
What else can I give you
Besides custody of my burned self?

–Jessie Close, “MYSELF,” From Resilience:  Two Sisters and a Story of Mental Illness

I Let You Go

In a split second, Jenna Gray’s world descends into a nightmare. Her only hope of moving on is to walk away from everything she knows to start afresh. Desperate to escape, Jenna moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, but she is haunted by her fears, her grief and her memories of a cruel November night that changed her life forever.

I’ll be honest, I almost gave up on this one. I Let You Go starts out really slow, and at first seems like just a stereotypical romance novel. Girl has tragedy. Girl moves to remote cottage on island. Girl makes friend with female leader of island. Girl gets dog. Girl meets attractive male leader of island and falls in love.

We’ve all read those kinds of stories. They are nice, but after so many of them…a bit dull. This one also kept flipping perspectives between Jenna’s story and the “homefront”–a police procedural plot that followed the casework of Jenna’s original tragedy. While the perspectives changed at each chapter break, they weren’t labeled, so my brain switch really had to be on.

However, as I scrolled through Goodreads for the summary, I saw 5 star review after 5 star review talking about the twists of this amazing thriller!

Wait…

…What? Am I reading the right book?

It took until about the 45% mark, but yep. Thriller. Once I got to the top of that plot hill, it reeeeeeeeeally started tumbling down fast. It was still a little bit predictable to someone who reads a lot of books like this, but the pace did pick up quite a bit, and there were a few turns that made me think twice a few times.

This is quite a dark book. Be prepared for domestic violence, rape, and death of a child. It’s a pretty scary rendition of just how far abuse can go, and how hard it is to fight back. It also answers the question, “Why didn’t you call the police?”

No really–the police actually ask that question. You will get an answer. Pay attention to it. And apply it to real life every single time it pops into your head from then on.

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NetGalley provided this ARC for an unbiased review. Releases May 3.

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