Forum / Jill Chan's What We Give (a review)

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    Mathew Paust
    Aug 08, 05:56pm

    WHAT WE GIVE – Jill Chan

    Jill Chan's voice in What We Give is so intimate and seemingly artless in its quiet, confessional lyricism it quickly persuaded me to suspend any intuitive disbelief her story was not autobiographical. I'm still not certain, despite her claim it is fiction.

    Her narrator grabs us at the start with news her husband has just died of a heart attack as the couple were ready for bed. Her shock as she reveals this is palpable, visceral, wrenching:

    "I woke up in a daze this morning. At first, I thought he was beside me. But, of course, he wasn't.
    "We were together thirty years. And now, it is twelve hours apart--that time he died and this time I'm still alive. Or the time I find myself still living, still breathing."

    The novella weaves back and forth over the course of her marriage, starting with the first moment of contact, when he borrowed a book from her at the library where she worked. The memories she relates to us are rich with a gamut of emotion, from awe to joy to unfounded suspicions of infidelity to unimpeachable love to undying, unimaginable grief. She explains the irony of her poetic language as a virtually unconscious outpouring of words in devotion to her husband.

    We know Chan as a distinguished New Zealand poet, so the beauty of her language comes as no surprise. The irony comes from her narrator's confession that although she worked as an editor with her husband's small publishing house she'd never been able to write. Her husband, she says, had told her writing was like love-making. This made her want to write to see if it was true:

    "But no matter what I did, I couldn't learn to write. No words came to me. Now that my husband's dead, they come profusely. Just wouldn't stop. Like blood from a wound.

    I sit down and words flow like water from a tap.
    I'm sorry that my husband will never read a word.

    "I touched the glass of the coffin and felt the chill of winter," says the sudden, bleeding poet. "the shock of someone who never believed in love before.

    "He was sturdy like an oak tree, beautiful like an orchid, soft like a baby's palm. It was a dream that remained a dream. I'm still haunted by it. I still believe in dreams."

    And this, a year later, after she's decided to live the rest of her life as a solitary widow: "Every moment without my husband is hell.

    "As if people notice.

    "I think they know.

    "They keep their distance. Because love couldn't grow in a field of dust. And I am as dusty as death."

    Jill Chan is offering What We Give as a free ebook. It's worth much, much more. You can download it here:

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    Erika Byrne-Ludwig
    Aug 08, 11:32pm

    A great achievement, Jill! Well done!

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    Darryl Price
    Aug 09, 12:45am

    I'm a fan of Jill Chan!

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    Jill Chan
    Aug 09, 05:03am

    Mathew, your review highlights all the right places. Thank you.

    Erika and Darryl, I'm a fan of your work. Thank you.

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    Rachna K.
    Aug 10, 01:41am

    Wonderful Jill!

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    Jill Chan
    Aug 10, 03:48am

    Thank you, Rachna.

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