The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch [in Library Journal]
“This, reader, is a mother-daughter story,” the American writer-who-is-also-the-mother insists in the latest from Lidia Yuknavitch (Dora: A Headcase). The mother-writer has battled debilitating bouts of depression but she’s survived thus far, until her daughter’s stillborn birth spirals her into silent withdrawal.
In an effort to save her, the mother-writer’s coterie of artists – including former and current husbands, an ex-lover, and friends – are charged with rescuing an Eastern European girl made world-famous by an iconic war photograph. The award-winning image captures the child midflight, leaping from an explosion that destroyed her family, her home, her identity.
“Every novel is a lie that hides the self,” the writer warns, and yet the truth proves even more difficult to comprehend. That the characters remain nameless – they’re referred to only by their jobs/relationships – adds an oxymoronic layer of immediacy, as if the writer, photojournalist, playwright could be any mother, lover, brother we know.
Verdict: Narrator Amanda Dolan’s measured, exacting voice heightens the recognition, making Yuknavitch’s prose that much more chilling, alarming, and ultimately unforgettable. A sparse, jarring, can’t-turn-away experience.