Melissa Grunow’s book, I Don’t Belong Here: Essays (New Median Arts, September 2018), collects essays, some previously published, that document various events in the author’s life, including graduate school and teaching, failed relationships, and mental health. Grunow has used the titles and content of these essays to weave her collection together, all under the umbrella of the “otherness” she feels and how that has affected her at various points in her life. The final essay recounts when she was finally able to fully embrace her mental health struggles and begin to heal.
The collection is broken into four distinct sections: “Unspoken,” “Displaced,” “Suppressed,” and finally, “Misunderstood.” Subsequently, each essay within the section highlights those headers. For instance, the first essay of the collection in Part 1: Unspoken is titled, “Silent, Stifled Love.” The titles work to not only allude to the essay’s content, but also tie each essay together within the collected works.
Throughout the collection, Grunow plays with narrative voice. Several essays are told in second person, many in third person, and very rarely does she use first person as she addresses her own experiences head-on. In the second essay, “Kissing Ginger,” Grunow uses second person to address her ex-husband, whom she witnesses kissing “Ginger, the lesbian poetry student with a pierced lip.” The essay becomes an open letter of confession to her ex-husband, noting for the first time that she witnessed this act, but had said nothing about it. The rest of the essay repeats how she didn’t blame him for kissing Ginger, but she did blame him for not caring when she was throwing up in the bathroom, a sign of what was to come in their marriage.
Each essay jumps through time and space, often melding different time periods and events in the author’s life that fit within the category of the title. In one of the latter essays, “Good Person,” Grunow combines her time teaching a night class and being friendly with an Albanian cleaning woman and her relationship with a friend named Nick. The juxtaposition occurs when the cleaning woman, unnamed, tells Grunow she is a good person, but Grunow uses the alternative story to illustrate a time she didn’t feel like a good person, when Nick began to use cocaine (again) and she did nothing to stop him.
Grunow’s prose is poetic in nature. She’s a beautiful storyteller as she weaves her stories together under a single theme for each piece. Her voice is honest and open, allowing the reader to not only understand the emotion behind each instance recounted, but to also feel what she felt as those events were happening. The feeling of freedom and acceptance culminates in the final essay, “We’re All Mad Here: A Field Guide to Feigning Sanity.” When it ends, the reader feels the same relief and acceptance as Grunow.
Ashley lives in Pennsylvania with her family, where she graciously dog-and-chicken sits for her siblings. She writes book reviews for the blog, After the Last Page and is also the co-coordinator of YA Fest.