Posted by Chitra Singh
The slim cream copy of Women, a novella written by Chloe Caldwell, published by Short Flight/Long Drive Books in 2014 – which once might have been white indeed – was withdrawn from a small bag and handed to me on the second meet. I was surprised but received it as a most natural thing, intrigued, and directly opened it to a random page and read a line. She commented on that, amused “Are you just reading from a random page…”. It made me laugh because it had a mention of lesbians…calling them lesbians…and I repeated it aloud. I flipped it to the first page, read another couple lines, decided I liked the plain humorous writing style and the interesting tone, announced that, and thanked her. I am aware the exchange has sealed another meet.
I begin reading the next day, sick and in bed, and just a few pages along I realise with a start that Chloe Caldwell’s novella is seemingly what I myself have been trying to write for a bit now. I consider giving it up; consider whether it will interfere with my concept and style, else make it seem redundant and sap up the fledgling motivation. But I am also aware the plot crumbs have already roped me in and perhaps there is little hope; I then think that bodes well for whatever I have begun to do as well! I decide I could take this as a prototype to build on, or as a learning instead, and no two stories are anyhow the same!
Also read: Book Review: What’s A Lemon Squeezer Doing in My Vagina?
I am however very much struck at the oddity that she decided to lend me this particular book.
Women by Chloe Caldwell refuses to be a dead set-in-stone story, is much aware of its own craft and engages with the process of storytelling, speaking directly to the reader and discussing the literary choices within the main text. It’s not a ‘writer’s novel’ though, as they say, it just relays the anxiety and mulls on the morality of sharing a story in the simplest manner. Is it an elaborate ploy? All fiction? Speaker as a character; no roots? I know enough to know convincing you of that would be the real ploy – it is way too personal. Though for sure, it wants to be, with deliberate intention, very near you.
She had mentioned somewhere amidst the two meets that she loves to communicate with books by marking and jotting notes and smileys. This is queerness I find endearing. I say I would love to see what she liked… and she lays it open to me with a hand gesture ‘you could too’ and that she’d be curious to see what parts I like. So when I lie down with this slim breezy copy of Women by Chloe Caldwell that strikes a strikingly intimate tone and is punctuated by markings that I cannot but reconsider in the light of the person I am getting to know, and I am a little taken aback. It seems like I am sharing a remarkable intimacy with a person I’ve just begun to know – though you could say we’ve established an uncanny familiarity in the short couple of meets and a slew of messages; it’s surprising, it’s exciting. She wants to know over a message how far along am I with it and I tell her I am taking it slow, its making me think and that it’s literally ‘soft-porn’ and so why’d I rush it! She absolutely agrees with my assessment, while also perceiving that as the precise reason to hurry it along.
In a part feverish state and the curious proceeding of Chloe Caldwell’s novella, I find myself constantly thinking back to what she’d said, whether the aspect of the mental health in the novel resonates personally, how odd that I relate to it so deeply, and how much of it she has experienced first-hand – obsession and passion and self-destruction. It also, again surprisingly and curiously throws up vivid details from our meetings I did not really think I registered; Voice, manner, gestures and style. I recall the way she held her pen when she had taken to write out a piece for someone asking for help and donations. I recall how she went about it conscious of her handwriting and her manner and yet I couldn’t for my life remember whether she used her right or her left hand. Something of the hold that I remember suggests it could be the left but I couldn’t be sure.
As I turn over a page I burst out laughing, at three points on the two sides is the word ‘haha’, her commitment to the process is amusing. I underline some bits but since she has maintained an overall neatness to the pages, taking cue from it- take to tick marking and making vertical lines in the margins, along the bits I like; a lot are the same. I know the difference on looking back since hers is a firm hand and mine a soft dawdling one; I draw over her smiley at another point… and at another where she has put a question mark, over a confusion I grasp, I am tempted to write down a response.
While relaying a story of a passionate, transgressive (extra commitment), destructive love relation, Women by Chloe Caldwell discusses female sexuality, and casually meanders around the queer scene with a trans friend, and references to dykes, lesbians, butches and experimentation. The fulcrum of the story, other than the initial erotica bit, is mental health – patterns of behavior, the high of drugs and emotions, manipulation (if you want to call it that), therapy, ache and ultimately a somewhat recovery – hope.
I set down the book after having woken up unusually early to complete it since I had plans to travel. Though I want to resist telling her, and instead write her something on it, I message and let her know, ‘I’m done’ – though I say nothing ‘of’ it, as yet.
Now, how do you express to a person without being ridiculous that sharing an experience of a slim novella seems to have done away with some inhibitions, revealed a lot more than expected, that it is mildly scary, has turned the head too swiftly into intimate alleys and has unmistakably forged somewhat of a bond.
And then, I wonder, how much of this was deliberate.
Chitra is a litty head. In pursuit of wonder. She holds a degree of Masters in English Literature. Involved in psychology, law and in a more staccato fashion, physics. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.