Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Review: Stag's Leap

Book: Stag’s Leap
Author: Sharon Olds
Genre: Poetry
Awards: Pulitzer Prize, T S Eliot Prize
My Rating: 5 Stars
From the Publisher: In this wise and intimate new book, Sharon Olds tells the story of a divorce, embracing strands of love, sex, sorrow, memory, and new freedom.

I started reading Poetry this year as part of a challenge with my book club buddies. I have never explored this genre before and it’s safe to say I was not excited. When I looked around for poetry suggestions, one of the names I encountered multiple times was Sharon Olds. And thanks to the availability in my local library, I decided to start my Sharon Olds journey with Stag’s Leap.

 A difficult choice, as I had been rightly warned by those that have loved and enjoyed her works. Stag’s Leap is a collection of confessional poems documenting her feelings for a year after her 30 year marriage ended. And as the seasons changed, so did her emotions. We see her go through the various stages that follow the end of a relationship – from bewilderment, anger, self-blame, pain to actually accepting the end, occasional indulgences in fond remembrances, and gradually getting over someone who was almost a part of her. 

Maybe I thought I might have been over him more
by now. Maybe I’m half over who he
was, but not who I thought he was, and not
over the wound, sudden deathblow
as if out of nowhere, though it came from the core
of our life together
--Stag’s Leap. Sharon Olds.

Throughout the book, the raw emotion and searing pain is palpable. The poems and the haunting words stuck with me long after I had put the book down. I found myself (almost masochistically) going back and re-reading the sections again and again. When someone leaves you after knowing you intimately, their parting comes across almost as an accusation, a finger point of sorts. You are left to deal with the guilt and the shame of knowing that your best wasn’t good enough. And Sharon Olds describes every thought, every emotion, every feeling so accurately that it almost feels impersonal. It feels like an perspicacious outsider’s views. 

I am so ashamed to be known to be left
By the one who supposedly knew me best.
-- Known to be Left, Stag’s Leap, Sharon Olds

What touched me most about her book was that it wasn’t vicious. She didn’t lash out at her husband for leaving her for another woman. This wasn’t her way of “getting back at him”. This was almost therapeutic. And it was inspiring that she wasn’t filled with anger and hatred. 

When anyone escapes, my heart
Leaps up. Even when it’s I who am
Escaped from,
I am half on the side of the leaver.
--Stag’s Leap, Stag’s Leap, Sharon Olds

For me, this book isn’t just a description of the heartbreak following a failed marriage. It is the description of a journey from anger and disappointment to understanding and forgiveness. Love doesn’t abruptly end when a loved one leaves us and I don’t think anyone can describe it better than Sharon Olds.

And the most powerful line of the entire book is the very last one – 

I did not deceive him, he did not deceive me,
I did not leave him, he did not leave me,
I freed him, he freed me.
-- What Left?, Stag’s Leap, Sharon Olds.

Buy this book from Amazon.com


bermudaonion said...

Poetry always feels like it's over my head but I'm going to try some soon.

padmaja said...

Ramya your review itself very poetic. I may not be able to read
books like you, but i will definitely read your blogs which
is very interesting. in facebook
when i read about your meaningful
review on breast cancer A alphabet,
i wanted to read the same and entered yr bookshelf
with love, Padmaja