Amy Fusselman's 8: A Memoir was a difficult book to settle into. At first, the writing seemed elliptical and meandering; the "narrative" went nowhere; and at its worst, it teetered on cloyingness. But that was only for the first 30 pages or so, after which Fusselman's rhythms and styles began to feel more natural, and her way of leaving a subject, only to swoop back up on it later, began to make more sense. Soon, the cadence and tone of 8 became like second nature, as if we were gliding in big, loopy patterns around Fusselman's life. We were never left to study any facet of the writer's story for too long: As soon as we spotted it, we'd skate right on by. But doing so let us see it repeatedly from different vantage points, and as with figure eights, we stayed on the path until we knew it instinctively.
In 8, the McSweeney's-approved author doesn't lay out the events of her life in a linear, Point A to Point B way. Not even close. Instead, information is doled out in vignettes: a memory here, a rumination there. At one point, she even takes the trouble to tell us, in an offset paragraph: "I am writing this section later, after I thought I had finished writing this whole book. I realized I left some things hanging and I needed to go back and tie them up." (Writers edit and rewrite all the time; it's just that most of them don't talk aloud while doing so.)
At the core of 8 are Fusselman's experiences with the man she calls "my pedophile," although, like everything else in the book, this is treated with a deadpan tone that runs counter to the over-dramatic treatment of so many creative nonfiction workshops. She also loops around the subjects of monster trucks, the Beastie Boys, motorcycle riding, and craniosacral therapy. These mini-meditations are woven together throughout the book: A longish passage about a wonderful exchange with a cabdriver swiftly shifts into a childhood memory of climbing onstage at a production of Sleeping Beauty. This segues into an analysis of the song "Ch-Check it Out." In this way, 8 remains true to the form of memory—one topic slides into another, into another, into another, all the while circling around the same basic themes and truths.
Fusselman's sentences are wordy and casual, as in, "So I was putting the KOOL glass that I love in the dishwasher that is going to destroy it, and as I was putting it there I was thinking that the biggest lie in the world is the one where we think because one thing happened it will always happen." Where I found this forced chumminess off-putting at first, I was quickly lulled into Fusselman's familiarity; her writing style did actually trick my brain into thinking she and I were much closer than we are as author and reader, which is a fairly astounding effect. Soon, I found myself reading passages aloud to friends and taking copious notes of brave, exciting paragraphs.
Although 8 is slim and modest in size (129 pages in big type), Fusselman's ambition and gifts unfold and expand like those capsules that turn into dinosaur sponges when you drop them into water. This book isn't for purists or anyone unwilling to stretch their brains a bit, but for readers willing to act as the awaiting sinkful of water, 8 is a fun and frequently magical phenomenon to behold.