A Gentle Visit

By Sarah Hoenicke for Anomaly

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Goodbye, Vitamin, by Rachel Khong. Henry Holt and Co., 2017. 208pp, fiction. What We Lose, by Zinzi Clemmons. Viking, 2017. 224pp, fiction.

“The visit was a liniment,” writes poet Alberto Ríos in “Coffee in the Afternoon.”

A balm for the nerves of two people living in the world,
A balm in the tenor of its language, which spoke through our hands
In the small lifting of our cups and our cakes to our lips.

I was reminded of this simply-worded poem by two debut novels out this month — Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong, and What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons. Both read like well-documented, thoughtfully worded journals. Both deal with memory, the loss of a parent, and the importance of food when trying to cope and heal. And yet, they are completely different in tone. Where Khong is light-hearted and sweetly mournful, Clemmons is darkly emotional, connecting her personal loss to the bigger issues that have shaped her family and life.

English speakers (myself included) often slip and use “where” when referencing time. “There was this time where,” I’ll say, and catch myself, my mind fumbling to make the seemingly logical correction to connect time to “when,” to place it on a line rather than in space. But don’t we see time as physical? Who hasn’t gone back to their childhood bedroom and felt herself transported to the time-space contained there? In close relationships, we contain time for each other, storing memories jointly. This concept, called transactive memory, was proposed by social psychologist Daniel Wegner in 1985. It seems this is why other people can take us back in our minds — we’ve shared a significant event or portion of life, and so they own some of the recollections. So, what happens when a person close to us, who has been this kind of home to our memories, dies?

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