RUN SCREAM UNBURY SAVE
By Katherine McCord
Autumn House Press, 2017
143 pages, $17.95
Reviewed by Ashley Miller
RUN SCREAM UNBURY SAVE is a curated experimental journal of sorts focused on McCord’s everyday life, anxieties, and events as she creates RUN SCREAM UNBURY SAVE. A sometimes jumbled, sometimes elegant, sometimes achingly spare collection that weaves present with past and back again, with each sparkling piece of insight, humor, and truth tumbling into the next like a necklace of sea glass, that should not (cannot, will not) be approached as a standard selection of memoir.
Early in RUN SCREAM UNBURY SAVE, Katherine McCord explores a dream (nightmare?) she once had where the only way to travel between locations was by “climbing/walking/balancing/straddling” a series of “interlocking crossing-each-other’s-paths trails made out of nets,” which turns out to be a remarkably adept description of what it takes to read McCord’s memoir.
The climb/walk/balance/straddle predicament becomes the reader’s struggle in navigating McCord’s sometimes topsy-turvy, edge-of-stream-of-consciousness prose. It is not easy, but teetering through the series of nets precariously and deliciously woven by McCord is the only way to get from page 1 to page 143. In a grander sense, it mirrors (mimics, mocks) McCord’s own balancing act between her creative, professional, and personal life. We witness her trapeze artistry as she tries to make ends meet and keep her sanity while teaching art, surviving seasons while battling seasonal affective disorder, enduring days of discovering memory, processing a friend’s suicide, aging daughters, a disdain for the politics of higher education, and continuing on and on and on and on.
The collection consists of essays in a variety of length and form, some more akin to prose poetry, some not more than a few lines, others spanning pages. Selections like “SPRING” where McCord contemplates “if Fitzgerald’s Daisy were winter,” “HEALING HOLE” in its dictionary entry form, or “HOPE,” that is not just about the abstract concept but also the name she has given one of her daughters, something “never whispered/ until she was born,” are so poem-like that one may forget the word “memoir” is even printed on the cover.
In others, like “CLUES II” when McCord confesses the only thing that keeps her motivated to go to the gym is that “there might be samples that are free” and in “JUNCTURE” where McCord looks forward to a Bimini Island getaway where her family will be “happy as clams,” her observations read like sampled diary entries.
In these moments of relatable normalcy, McCord actually does one of her best tricks: she runs the moment through a sieve, panning for trinkets and treasures in the mundane, exposing a glint of gold while living normal, everyday moments. Take for instance “TRANSITION,” where McCord assists her daughter to search for a beach towel which her daughter “ends up finding herself.” Mundane, everyday occurrence for mothers, but McCord’s sentence breaks, word choice, and title choice in this selection demand the passage be read twice.
The declaration, short and clipped, could be motherly annoyance at having helped a child find an object only for the child to find it where it was expected to be, but by using the phrase “finding herself” in connection with her daughter (old enough to drive away from home for a spontaneous trip to the coast with friends, young enough to need assistance from Mom, but then not really needing Mom) and the careful title, is a glimmer of more.
While it might be tempting to cling to these “normal” moments and neuter the weirdness of McCord’s memoir by stating that the collection simply explores life in an unconventional way, attempting to describe this collection with any variation of the word “simple” is an unimaginative insult to McCord’s efforts. From read-it-twice moments, to the meta-audience-conscious style, to the question of what the book is (poetry/essay/journal or something else altogether?), to the slippy, not easily pin-tucked focus (is it the author’s life? The author’s craft? The author’s parenting?), nothing is simply done within this collection.
RUN SCREAM UNBURY SAVE, sometimes as off-putting as its title, is strange and startlingly beautiful because McCord has miraculously captured on the page how life is off-putting. Art is off-putting. Creation is off-putting. There is no simply parsing and paring and splaying experiences into perfect dioramas. So McCord does it complicatedly. She brings you in close to watch her as she writes about living while writing about writing about life…Got that?
She does do us one favor, though, practically serving the heart of the collection on a platter in the essay/poem “A SURREAL SELF-PORTRAIT SERIES.” One of the shortest entries in the collection, its entirety is the phrase “Literary memoir with eyes” repeated six times.
This is RUN SCREAM UNBURY SAVE: a literary memoir with eyes. Her eyes, readers’ eyes, memory’s eye, her sister’s, daughters’, husband’s, dead friend’s eyes, all to witness, through the lens she holds to her whirring mind, a glimpse of the fresh hell that is storming through memory and life, through the act of creating the very book being read. Then, while we’re tucked in close and properly entrenched in McCord’s web, she flexes that lens, and the result is dazzling. The result is RUN SCREAM UNBURY SAVE; a verbal kaleidoscope of experience and artistic creation.