BOOK REVIEW: Final Girl by Lauren Milici

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BOOK REVIEW: Final Girl by Lauren Milici

I’ve started, erased, and restarted this review on several occasions. I’m sure there was some insight in some ideas I had, but I consistently saw what I had written, and was left frustrated. So I stopped writing for a bit, but here I am in this early new year, charging forth because it’s time to start and finish this review.

Because the book deserves attention.

I need to stop worrying about the perfect words.

I need to trust my process.

You may be thinking Can’t this guy just get on with it? But I think there’s a valuable lesson to be learned from my starting, erasing, and restarting. Trauma, especially as it relates to sexual assault, may follow similar circumstances. As a survivor of sexual abuse myself, I found myself trying to find the best version of myself. Because the version of myself that I knew before was indelibly marked and scarred. I’m currently working with counselor trying to remember myself Before the abuse occurred. There was roughly nine and a half years of life there and, unfortunately, I struggle to remember details with specificity—there’s a heavy fog, but every-so-often, a dream will trigger a response.

The last time I had a post-traumatic nightmare was a couple weeks ago; it was after the semester ended, but before all the holidays. It’s a nightmare I have regularly, but there are subtle changes here and there. It starts with an open room with a couple windows on each wall. Then a table appears. Chairs follow in and eventually the room starts to get crowded with people I know. We gather around a table and then the voices begin. There’s some polite conversation to begin, but it quickly ends, as one by one, an individual I know will say something to me, walk out the door, and never return. I eventually make my way to the door, and I am able to unlock it, but it leads to another room, with another table, but this time, there are no people. I am left alone. Abandoned. Abandonment is my greatest fear; I fear that eventually I will say or do something and all the people who love me will look at me, say something, and walk out of my life, and never return. This fear stems, most vividly I’m sure, from the recollection of the last time my abuser abused me. He looked me square in the eyes and told me You’re bothering me—and he walked from under the kiosk of the museum we were visiting and left me.

Terribly alone.

I still get emotional when I remember that day, but through hard, diligent work in counseling, I am getting better and I am getting prouder of the person I am today and less ashamed of the boy I was. But wrapped with shame is the fear I forementioned and wrapped with fear is love. I use the word wrapped very purposely here—they are like blankets I use to keep myself warm, even though they can also smother.

There’s always a line until it’s crossed. ​​ 

      ***

I was introduced to the work of Lauren Milici by way of sharing space in the anthology A Shadow Map edited by the wonderful Joanna C. Valente. Milici’s poems came right after my poem. The poem “Purge” has stayed with me since I first read it nearly three years ago and it seems fitting to me that the poem opens Final Girl (Big Lucks, 2019), a haunting, devastating, important book authored by Milici. The poem is driven by action verbs and a staggering close:

 Forgive yourself,
 maybe. Find him
 in the back
 of your throat.

The duality of “maybe” is successful in execution, just as the poem successfully opens the book. And, with that poem’s ending, I knew I was immersed in a gripping book. I am drawn to remember the closing lines from Melanie Brooks’ afterword from Writing Hard Stories: Celebrated Memoirists Who Shaped Art From Trauma (Beacon Books, 2017). She writes:

If we’re writers, coming to terms, is exactly what we do. We find language to unravel the complexities of what happened, and we re-stitch those complexities into narratives that can be meaningful to others. And those are the narratives that have the potential to give others the courage to find their own.

In recalling those lines, I am struck by the language present—unravel, re-stitch, meaningful, potential, courage. Those words are also words I think about when I think of Milici’s chapbook. One of the poems that embodies these words is “Orlando”.

The poem begins “I’m trying to forget…”, but it’s a poem I can’t forget, especially where Milici writes:

This is after you ask me to return to the room where you raped me so we can sleep
beside each other as if nothing ever happened, as if at some point in the night I won’t
wiggle from your grip to see if the balcony doors will unlock so I can throw myself
into the street below us. But they don’t & I’m supposed to live.

The fact that this poem is written in prose enables the reader to immerse themselves into the narrative. The language is direct and focused which also furthers the power of immersion this piece possesses. The repetition of as if is something that haunts me and keeps me in the poem and then, the poem devastates me I’m supposed to live. And the poem lives. So does the speaker. So does the poet. And I am so grateful for that.

      ***

It’d be a disservice to the book, this review, and you reading this, to not mention that this chapbook is paired with Emily O’Neill’s You Can’t Pick Your Genre. O’Neill’s poems are a vital pairing with Milici’s. The poems are pulsingly alive with an enduring strength. I can’t shake from my mind the close of the poem “If It Was You” where O’Neill writes:

If you follow the rules
don’t neglect the most important one:
if you hire your hatred out to your hands
there will always be mistakes.

If you’re like me, that close takes your breath away, and I assure the rest of the poem doesn’t let up either. But the strength in pushing forward despite the difficulty is something I deeply admire. Other poems you should know about are “Neighborhood Watch”, “You Just Won’t Die”, and “Should’ve Been Me”. I point out these specifically, but really, I think all the poems are pieced together to create a chapbook I won’t soon forget.

      ***

As I turn to close this review, I want to say this:

Believe survivors. Support their stories. Lift them up.

Support this author on Social Media

LITSTYLE Reviwer

Stephen Furlong is a recent graduate with an M.A. in English from Southeast Missouri State University. His poems, reviews, and interviews have appeared in Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Pine Hills Review, and Yes Poetry, among others. He also had a poem in A Shadow Map: An Anthology by Survivors of Sexual Assault which was edited by Joanna C. Valente and published by Civil Coping Mechanisms. He can be reached at @StephenJFurlong on Twitter.

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Book Review| Books| February 2020| Poetry| Stephen Furlong
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