Web Chapbooks by Shya Scanlon

The Literary Review Series #3

Reviewed by Nicolle Elizabeth

*“This Mortal Coil”

Shya Scanlon’s Poolsaid has more layers than a DeKooning painting. The trick with DeKooning is in how he throws the paint, the matter is the matter, and therein lies the depth: in addition to the depth within the subject and the subject coming through within the paint. A lot of pink on the right, some royal blue up on the left. In goopy, sticky strokes, thin lines slicing a breast, an inhale. An exhale and a splatter. Or maybe that’s just me seeing people in paint, I don’t know. Poolsaid breathes an unequivocal, intentional understanding of the female psyche, more specifically, a realistic rendition of a woman battling cancer. Everybody’s a meanie in Poolsaid—despicably human and unforgivingly self-centered, unforgivingly self-absorbed, forgivingly miserable. DeKooning showed us you can throw it any way that you want. Scanlon bravely walks the line between confessional meditations and “airing dirty laundry,” almost runs the risk of being exploitive, by his subject matter alone: a chapbook about a woman who has had a masectomy, is self-medicating and ignoring her children, could be seen by some as a magic show, but it’s not. Well, it is, in the best way possible. As a woman and as a woman who (sometimes publicly) deals with a very private illness, I’m going to say this: Shya spiritually conjured what it can be like to be a person dealing with an illness in a very true, raw, real and intensely delicate and elegant way. In a chapbook world of first person characterless characters, Poolsaid is an indictment of the American family, and of existential longing through self-deprivation of love. Or perhaps, it is a portrait of a “Mother” character who loves her children so much that she cannot bear to love them more, knowing she is dying. The work is reminiscent of William Gay’s “Where Will You Go When Your Skin Cannot Contain You?” (Tin House, 2006) in which a character loves a woman so intensely he feels he must kill her, and then does, and then digs her back up, and the last sentence is something like, “he just feels more deeply than the rest of us.” Here, Scanlon has given us the “Mother” whose combination of longing for life and intense love and hatred of her children and self are a catalyst for her greater problem, which the pool in the work works as a gorgeous metaphor for. The woman is an alcoholic and her family is underwater, drowning in their own square of familial community, while losing a battle to cancer. Poolsaid begs for a matriarch and gives us a deliciously evil, drunk, mortal character, and I just love the damn thing. Secondary characters are tortured throughout the narrative. In a moment of quiet after chaos bone chillingly real, a Cassandra-esque daughter, a wrestling father, an asking son, all taxing to and ignored by the Mother—a whirlpool of want. Poolsaid begs the American family to stop asking why in the wrong direction and start asking why in the right one. And the word choice throughout the work is just gorgeous. “‘I’m minding,’ she reminds.” Scanlon repeatedly uses devices and techniques like blue plastic tarp to house the subtext in such a refined way I felt like reading the work aloud, and when I did, found myself spitting Scanlon’s indictment all over the room. His masterful use of consonants is wherein the keys to the Emerald City lay. A skeleton map in fluorescent arrows pointing toward the truth. Parallelism remixed, chopped, screwed and abbreviated: “Mother, left behind. Mother, envy of another month.” Alliteration building as the intensity of the narrative rises, high tide, full moon, at this family’s pool: “Her fresh face falls, but suffers home along that bright abuse of arm. Mother pops one snapped back pill, and swallows. “Mommy, please.” “Am I, dear?” Mother says.” Scanlon’s ability to maintain this sort of intensity would be diabolical were it not for the inarguable touchdowns of heartbreaking want: “I must have missed something,” Mother says. The how-to. The the.” It doesn’t feel like Shya’s “beating up” this woman, it feels like he’s giving millions of them a voice.

*“This Mortal Coil” is a song by the Cocteau Twins

  1. […] miss Nicole Elizabeth’s fantastic, “goopy, sticky” review of Shya Scanlon’s […]

  2. […] Nicolle Elizabeth’s very insightful review of my chapbook Poolsaid.  The review can be read here, and the chapbook itself, which was published by Literary Review last summer, can be downloaded […]

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