The Small Backs of Children is like walking into a dream. No, its like walking through the dreams of a group of people. Its lyrical and fragmented and at times you have no idea what turn you just took and how it connects to the rest of the fragments. But, you forget it quickly and let the new dream stream carry you along its current.
The author, Lidia Yuknavitch is not a writer. She is a word painter, bringing together all the genres of her characters as they paint their own unique story upon your soul.
The story begins with a young girl caught on film by a photojournalist as she is leaving her home just before a bomb explodes and takes her entire family with it. And in that moment begins the web of all the women connected within its strands.
The girl, who I don’t believe is ever referred to anything other than “the girl” disappears into the woods after the infamous picture is taken and begins to paint . . . . with blood. She tells the story of her life with her blood paintings as well as the story of those she has known. At the doors of a widow, who lures her to safety as one would a feral animal and shows her kindness and teaches her and readies her for the outside world.
So also begins the search for her, by the photographer, the writer, the poet, the playwrite. Each with their own stories, their own paintings, their own pains and demons. Wrought in vivid color and sound and feeling. Each dream fragment, incomplete, yet standing firmly on its on and embedding itself in your memory and your soul. Cruelty and forgiveness, sacrifice and conquest, all laid out in a bare spattering of words.
And that is one of the things that makes this book so unique and powerful. Lidia doesn’t use a single word that isn’t utterly necessary. It is as if each word has been carefully chosen and sharpened to perfection before insertion into its precisely engineered line. Till you find yourself holding your breath on almost every page and needing to walk away and allow those last couple pages time to fully digest before you dare taste any more.
The Small Backs of Children is not a story, it is an experience. Unlike any I have ever encountered between the pages of a book before. If Ms. Yuknavitch is not nominated for a entire rash of awards for her achievement, someone needs to answer why. Other than words as naked as hers are sometimes difficult for even the critics to gaze too long upon. Personally, I am humbled before this woman’s expertise in extracting the soul from her ink.