Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl

By Kelle Groom
New York, Free Press, 2011
238 pages     Memoir

Kelle Groom, the author of I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl, was an alcoholic at 15, and a pregnant college student and mother at 19. The guilt that settled in when she gave her son, Tommy, to an aunt and uncle to raise caused her to descend into the watery depths of alcoholism, self-mutilation, blackouts, and horrendous relationships. The descent continued with the death of Tommy from leukemia when he was barely a year old.

It took Groom several years to become sober, finish her education, and have a career as a creative writing teacher and poet. It took her even longer to ask the necessary questions in order to gain some peace about her son and the circumstances surrounding his death. But for the twenty-five plus years since her son’s death, Groom has visited his grave, watched other children and their mothers, and seen herself in a life she never had. I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl deals primarily with her addiction, her stalled life, and her tentative recovery—all through the lens of her child.

Kelle Groom is a renowned poet, and her memoir is a long prose-poem. The Kirkus reviewer says: “The language of this brooding and obsessive memoir is exquisitely compressed, yet beneath the taut imagery and diction are palpable, powerful surges of emotions.” The heartbreak is so omnipresent that sometimes the beautiful language is the only thing that pulls the reader through. Here is what she says about herself as she begins to recover: “For the first time, I’m grateful for being alive, as an everyday thing. Not just in flashes. I thought I had to become someone I would be willing to approve of, love. I didn’t know I was her already.”

As a woman in her 40s, she has a long weekend visit with her aunt and uncle and is able to talk with them about her son Tommy for the first time, and the three of them arrive at some closure—the pain has been debilitating to them all. On her return to her job she is “reluctant to talk about anything that happened, afraid I would talk it away. The way so many things can be talked away, minimized into anecdote by a listener, a commenter.” A friend told her that the visit had been “a touchstone for change.”  This book, then, becomes that touchstone for change in her life.

Six weeks ago, our son and daughter-in-law waited in the next room while a young college woman gave birth to the baby girl who would become their daughter and our sixth grandchild. Although we were hundreds of miles away, I was there in the room with that young woman, surrounded as she was by her own family. I was so excited for the new parents but in grief for the young woman. How must she be feeling? How palpable must be her agony? Now I know.

Kelle Groom is the author of several books of poetry. This is her first foray into prose literature. I read I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl as part of a blog tour sponsored by the publisher, The Free Press. The book appears on shelves in bookstores today.

Kelle Groom’s website:
This is the trailer for the book:


LBC said...
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LBC said...

I recently reviewed this book on my blog The Scarlet Letter. I agree with your comment that the book is like a prose poem. The language is what set it apart from other memoirs of its kind for me. Lovely review.