By Lidia Yuknavitch
Lidia Yuknavitch's latest collection of fiction, Real To Reel, veers from Keanu Reeves to Siberia. The author is a professor at Mount Hood, and the tone of academia permeates her work. Her past relationship with heroin seems to color her reputation, but ultimately this is fiction suited for the word nerds.
Yuknavitch has a talent for singling out subjects and tones that are well rounded and interesting, but she occasionally suffers from over-thinking. The worst example of this is in "Scripted," the opening story in Real To Real. Not only is it formatted inconveniently in three continuous columns per page, but is rife with philosophical hair-pullings like, "Poetry saves us. Words give us the ability to move." Hmm. Yeah, feel free to freaking HURL.
Throughout the collection, ingenuity arm-wrestles with an over studied tendency towards overly descriptive, intangible writing, leaving the impression that this creative writing teacher is flexing her literary license a tad too unsubtly. Speaking of unsubtle, there is a lot of sex and rawness in Yuknavitch's writing. There's nothing wrong with sex, but here it's thrust like an embarrassingly sassy hip, or a little kid holding up the ashtray he made that day at preschool. It's so pointedly bold that it hypes itself out of shock value. The combination of refined style and self-conscious dirty talk comes off as preening, as opposed to "gritty."
That said, much of the content in this collection is commendably unique and worthwhile. The characters are varied and intense, with protagonists ranging from a boxer to an inmate to a new mother, all imbued with a stark sensitivity. Yuknavitch, as in her previous works (including Her Other Mouths and Liberty's Excess), has a fascination with film, and one of the most interesting passages is the fictionalized version of Keanu Reeves on Inside The Actors Studio, in which she dives in and out of the air-headed students' thoughts with winning accuracy. In fact she seems, on the whole, to thrive in the celluloid, with some jelly between her and the Real (or Reel, presumably), as realisms become unnecessarily and limply melodramatic. MARJORIE SKINNER