40 pages, $2.99
Review by Lynne Weiss
I thought I was going to love Sarah Einstein’s collection of four essays, Remnants of Passion, as soon as I read the first sentence: “Mommy Buddha is grousing again, hitching up his skirts and planting his big, black Chuck Taylors into the rutted mud of the road.”
I knew I was going to love it a few pages later when I laughed out loud, because I really love good writing that startles me enough to make me laugh. Having read the collection a few times now, it’s hard to remember exactly which sentence was the first one that made me laugh out loud, but it might have been the one in which our narrator/protagonist describes overhearing an ex-boyfriend (specifically, the one she describes as Terry-who-was-my-boyfriend-before-that-awful-business-with-the-cops-and-the-weed) describing a Thanksgiving at his parents house, and “his father grousing at the words we’re using on the Scrabble board, words he doesn’t know, words like textual and orality, which he says don’t sound like good Christian words to him …” The sentence goes on, though I’m not going to include it all here, because I’m supposed to be the one writing this review, and Einstein has a gift for writing long sentences woven of many strands of meaning and experience that carry a reader into the very sensations and sensuality of the world she is describing in these essays.
In various ways, these essays deal with “the remnants of passion,” or the aftermath of love, and they do so with refreshing insight and honesty. While Freud may or may not have said “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar” (as opposed to a metaphorical penis), it is clear that Einstein knows that sex is never just sex, and love usually has a cost. In “A Meditation on Love,” the 21-year-old protagonist struggles with her attraction/repulsion to a religious cult that seems to offer unconditional love; her insights are humorous and profound: “… I really want to believe that these strangers love me. And they want me to believe it, too. I know they do. Which is why I stay away from the Krishna Kitchen, even though they have the most reliably potable water. I recognize that I am, at this moment, lonely in a dangerous way.”
In the next essay, “The Origins of My Problems With Infidelity,” the narrator describes herself at 14, and how her longing to be desired leads to misunderstanding, humiliation, and misery when she misinterprets a fistfight—“her eye was blackened and she had kissed me, so it took me a while to understand” that the girl who had punched the protagonist’s “sort-of” boyfriend is more interested in proving a point to the boys who taunt her than she is in being the narrator’s girlfriend. The protagonist has her own point to prove: she is, despite her awkwardness and a backbrace, a girl who someone, anyone, wants to kiss, something that “mattered more than who that someone was.”
The next essay, “Self-Portrait in Apologies,” will make many writers think, “I wish I’d thought of that,” (at least, that’s what I thought), but not everyone could have executed it as well as Einstein does. The 18 apologies, ranging in length from a sentence to a page or more, each set off with a centered, bold heading, range from the humorous (“Apologies to Three Lovers from My Youth,” each of whom was told the narrator was a virgin) to the heartbreaking (“Apologies to the Boy Who Wasn’t Quite Right,” who was scorned and ostracized for reasons the narrator learns a decade later were tragic).
The final essay, “Fat,” is the longest and was originally published in PANK; it was also anthologized in Southern Sin: True Stories of the Sultry South and Women Behaving Badly (edited by Lee Gutkind and Beth Ann Fennelly, In Fact Books, 2014). This essay follows the narrator through several relationships sustained or undermined by food, starting with a high-school pregnancy and abortion, through efforts to negotiate the politics of penetration and orgasm with another woman, through a man who injects himself (in pre-Viagara days) to maintain an erection, and ending with a marriage between two overweight people set in the present day. The protagonist cooks pasta for her nearly 350-pound husband to combat his chronic depression. He jokes that she is “killing him with kindness.” She fears this may be true, but says “Fat is soft and comfortable … Fat softens the blows. Fat, at least, feels safe.”
Reading Remnants of Passion was a pleasure. As well as introducing me to Einstein, whose work I will watch for in the future, it introduced me to publisher Shebooks. Shebooks has an interesting list of short ebooks (readable in an hour or two) of memoir, journalism, and fiction by women. Although ebooks are not necessarily my favorite way to read, I plan to download more from their list, based on the quality of Remnants of Passion. Einstein’s book-length Mot: A Memoir, received the Creative Nonfiction award in the 2014 AWP Award Series and will be published by University of Georgia Press in 2015. I’ll be watching for that, as well. Fat may keep the narrator of Remnants of Passion safe, but Einstein’s writing is anything but safe. It is daring and exhilarating and I can’t wait to read more.
Lynne Weiss’s work has or will appear in Circa; Black Warrior Review; and Brain, Child; as well as the blogs of The Common, Ploughshares, and PANK. She has received grants and residency awards from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Millay Colony, the Vermont Studio Center, and Yaddo.