Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Koren Zailckas Explores Anger and Family in Her Latest Memoir, Fury

Koren Zailckas will be reading from her latest memoir, Fury, tonight at the University Village Barnes & Noble at 7 p.m.

You may remember cute-as-a-button Koren Zailckas from her bestselling debut memoir, Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood, that was written when she was merely in her early twenties, consequently making her the "poster girl for binge drinking." In Fury, Zailckas is back and more amazing than ever, taking us through her post-Smashed years as she sets out to write an objective, journalistic book on modern American attitudes towards anger and remedies for rage. Little does Zailckas know, she has her own anger to deal with--that of which has been repressed, subdued and bottled up, stemming from her early childhood and her family relationships.

We first meet Zailckas again as she is returning on a flight home from the U.K. where she has just experienced a heart-crushing breakup from her then musician boyfriend, "the Lark," a nickname given for his "talents of both singing and flight." Zailckas is rightfully devastated (as most are when they find out that their love no longer loves them) and she retreats to her parents New England home before her subletted NYC apartment will again be available.

Zailckas dabbles in homeopathy, yoga, Tonglen meditation, counseling and journaling as she struggles with a downward spiral of depression and a severe writer's block that is preventing her from working on her book about anger. Finally, Zailckas' therapist asks her point blank, "Is there a chance that the repressed anger that led you to write this book is the same force that's preventing you from seeing it through?"

Zailckas quickly realizes that she is brimming with the exact anger and buried "fury" that she is attempting to objectively document. While explaining the turn of events that morphed her objective book into a healing memoir, Zailckas admits:
I didn't set out to write a sequel to Smashed, but I have lived without an awareness of my past, and every life crisis dredged up the unexamined aspects of a much older story... Throughout this account, I refer to an unrealized book. This isn't a literary device so much as an honest record of events. The book I was trying to write when I undertook this subject four years ago died on the delivery table for the same reason this record now exists: I set out to write an objective book about modern remedies for anger and ended up with an achingly personal account of why I went looking for remedies in the first place."

It is apparent throughout Fury that Zailckas has done her "anger" homework. Often quoted in the memoir are psychiatry and psychotherapy pioneers such as Virginia Satir, Sigmund Freud and Freud's nemesis Wilhelm Reich, among others. Zailckas also recounts an anger-management seminar--SAP, or Self Actualization Program--that she had taken years before while compiling her research for the originally imagined book on anger. Her memories on this seminar are darkly humorous and David Sedaris-esque; where she is spending the weekend in a "no-tell motel" with a group of others who are asked to release their pent-up emotions towards their deadbeat fathers, accusing mothers, and general wrongdoers by beating the shit out of an 80-pound boxing bag with aluminum bats and screaming their hearts out. The group is expected to let out their "inner child," "rewrite their childhood," and towards the end of the weekend, to pick out a stuffed animal that will accompany their younger selves to the nearby Down Home Buffet for a dinner of french toast, banana splits, or whatever their "inner child" desires.

Zailckas writes of the memorable dinner: "All eyes were on us as we slinked into the Down Home Buffet: twelve terminally mortified adults with an array of playthings clutched to our chests. Upon seeing us, busboys, dropped silverware. Small children giggled while their slow parents gaped."

Though Fury takes you deep into Zailckas' darkest life moments, there is much light at the end of the tunnel in her journey to understand the roots of her underlying anger. Rather than placing all of the blame for ignoring her frustrations and emotions since childhood on her mother, Zailckas begins to realize that she is looking at it all wrong.

"It occurs to me that, just as she's wanted to strap a muzzle on my feelings, I haven't really wanted to experience hers. Most of my life I've avoided being honest with my mother for fear that it would ignite her own explosive emotions. I'm guilty of the exact same crimes I've charged her with... If I was looking for proof that she cared, it was right there in her anxieties about me... Like so many people in the world, her way of loving focused on training. Her affection had been there every time she said 'don't.'"

Overall, Zailckas' personal insights and writing are astonishing. By giving herself the ability to release the "un-feminine" repressed emotions that she has held back in fear since a young age, she is ultimately able to feel content, move forward, and make sense of the strained relationship with her mother that has given her so much heartache since childhood. If you originally fell in love with Zailckas while reading Smashed, you're most definitely in for a fantastic read with Fury.

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