Albeit smart, intimate and well-written, these qualities aren’t why I’ll remember this novel : no, I’ll remember What We Lose for its relatable depiction of grief, no matter how often I’ve wanted to stop reading. In this area of essays and important novels, when the representation of minorities in fiction is still so criminally inexistent, I love that this book exists, but looking back, that’s not what I’ll recall. The intense sense of dread I feel when I read about the loss of a parent, that I will.
Yes, there is that dark, terrifying loneliness that scares me, but I am acquainted with fear. If I stay inside long enough, root my heels in deeper, it doesn’t feel scary anymore. It feels like home.
See, I can see readers being confused by the numerous times Zinzi Clemmons skips from one subject to another, or by the disjointed narration and the multiples jumps in time : I wasn’t. The construction is solid in my opinion and I was interested in her slices of life, both in South Africa and in the United States, on what it means to be a black woman in nowadays America ; on the everyday racism, that does not need to wear a white robe to be insufferable and unacceptable, this racism that tells black girls that they should straighten their hair, accept what they have and stop resisting. The denunciation of that racism is needed, and welcomed.
Yet I don’t know how What We Lose is marketed, but it’s very much a coming-of-age, getting past a loss novel, above everything else. It reads like a memoir, a memoir in which I could see me.
The way Zinzi Clemmons depicts grief is not spectacular, and it made me so, so happy. I don’t know why most authors handles this subject with loud bangs, forever dramatic, and forget that the worst thing about grief is the intrinsic, hollow boredom we feel when the funerals are over. Everyone can go on with their lives, and here we are, stopped. Everything in this novels feels so accurate.
Lose is a straightforward equation : 2 – 1 = 1. A person is there, then she is not. But a loss is beyond numbers, as well as sadness, and depression, and guilt, and ecstasy, and hope, and nostalgia – all those emotions that expert tell us come along with death. Minus one person equals all of these, in unpredictable combinations. It is a sunny day that feels completely gray, and laughter in the midst of sadness. It is utter confusion. It makes no sense.
The thing is, when you lose your mum or your dad, everyone on Earth expects you to follow a certain pattern of behavior, and when you don’t, you feel lesser than dirt. My dad died four years ago, and no, I don’t remember his voice. My dad died four years ago, and no, I don’t believe in heaven ; I don’t think he’s looking after me ; I don’t talk to him ; I don’t go on his grave because I don’t think he’s there ; My dad died four years ago and I think he’s nowhere. I miss him so much, but I think he’s nowhere. Even now, I want to hit something when people tells me that he’s somewhere, smiling in the sky, and – as Zinzi Clemmons perfectly summed it up – that I need to acknowledge him, like this cliché of the persistent orphan who’s really living her life to make her lost parent proud. I refuse. God, knowing my dad, he would have laughed out loud at these antics. Most “orphan novels” rely on this pattern, and every time, it makes me feel so, so inexistent. What We Lose does, too, but contrary to most novels, it doesn’t stop there. It shows us is that there’s no such thing as one way to deal with loss, and for that I’m grateful.
I also liked Zinzi Clemmons‘s reflection about motherhood and the way our society puts maternity above everything else. As a woman who probably won’t have any children, and whose work revolves around giving children more chances, I appreciated her nuanced take on this subject, and the doubts she expressed :
I do not see the mother with a child as either more morally credible or more morally capable than any other woman. A child can be used as a symbolic credential, a sentimental object, a badge of self-righteousness. I question the implicit belief that only “mothers” with “children of their own” have a real stake in the future of humanity.
What We Lose‘s ultimate simplicity is probably going to cause it to lose some readers, but that’s what kept me. Many readers won’t understand what’s the point, and that’s okay. Even if I’ll never reread it, I’m glad it exists somewhere. I’m glad, and it’s as simple as that.
… and I think, ‘I have to call Mama to say hello.'”
I realized that that was how heartbreak occurred. Your heart wants something, but reality resists it. Death is inert and heavy, and it has no relation to your heart’s desires.