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May 2, 2013

Everything Rustles by Jane Silcott

everything-rustlesIn her book How To Be A Woman, Caitlin Moran talks about “the common attitudinal habit in women that we’re kind of…failing if we’re not a bit neurotic,” and certainly fiction, memoir, film and television abound with women unabashedly celebrating this “success”. But it all gets a bit tiresome, really, this idea that women are never more remarkable than when they’re twenty-three and totally fucked up (or thirty-three, or forty-three, but still totally fucked up). I’ve really got a thing for women who’ve learned a thing or two, particularly a thing beyond how to hit rock-bottom and make a bizarrely lipsticked corpse. Please do see my list of Great Canadian Non-Fiction for an idea of what I’m talking about, essay collections by amazing writers with experiences to recount and distance and maturity enough to reflect on those experiences. I maintain that it’s really possible for a person to grow up, to get a handle on things, to have kept a close enough eye on the world around them that they have something to teach the rest of us.

Though to get a handle on things, of course, is not to have it all figured out, or to ever stop asking questions, to have all the answers. Everything Rustles, Jane Silcott tells us in her book’s introduction, came about by accident. She didn’t know that she was writing a book, but instead, “I was just trying to find out what I thought about things.” She is writing from a threshold, just beyond her child-bearing years but with age not set in yet (though set in, it will–it all begins with that first twist of the knee whilst skiing). In her essay “Threshold”, Silcott writes, “As I head off to exercise class, drinking a glass of soy milk before I go, I think of girdles, cigarettes and gin. Why was I born into this relentlessly earnest time of herbal remedies and yoga classes? Why can’t I take advantage of stimulants and supportive underwear?”

The essays in this collection are diverse in structure and approach, but have in common Silcott’s attention to language, her curiosity, and sense of humour. She writes about what she’s learned and unlearn from aging; about her experiences as clinical teaching associate, model and guide to nurses and doctors learning how to conduct pelvic exams; about love, sex, and marriage, just what attracts two people; about family, about switching her kitchen table from round to rectangular and how it changed mealtimes and their family dynamics. She writes about fears; about her fears of passing her fears to her daughter; about encounters with friends and strangers, and her questions about what these mean. She writes about writing, about using life itself in order to understand how stories work; about losing her parents; about losing friends. I loved “Lanyard”, about her experiences teaching business English: “When I work at places with lanyards, I put on makeup and fuss with my hair.” She writes about letting her children go out into their own lives.

Everything Rustles is a high-literary version of Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck. These are essays that require close attention, which twist and turn away from where you think they’ll go. Not easy reading, but reading that is rich and rewarding. These stories of what Jane Silcott thinks about things deliver a vivid perspective of the world and life itself, and they’re a celebration of strength, wonder and learning.

One thought on “Everything Rustles by Jane Silcott”

  1. Kiley says:

    Great review, Kerry. I will now be picking this one up.

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