REVIEW: Awakenings: Stories of Body & Consciousness edited by Diane Gottlieb

Reviewed by Sarah Evans

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Cover of Awakenings: Stories of Body & Consciousness edited by Diane Gottlieb; A body seems to be floating underwater in a teal seaAs I sit reading the essay collection Awakenings: Stories of Body & Consciousness (ELJ Editions; October 2023), I attempt to maneuver my left leg into a position where my knee isn’t retaliating with pain. I wonder if my younger years as a softball shortstop have finally caught up to me, or if the knee doesn’t like the COVID weight I put on during those years where everyone was supposed to stay away from everyone else.

The horizontal scar running across the right side of my chest reminds me of the lump I found five and a half years ago, of the ensuing surgery that took my breast forever, of the way my community’s care for me changed me into someone who cares for my community. About a foot and a half lower, wavy lines stretch out from my belly button, like freshly tilled rows in a farmer’s field, permanent markers of the two sons I birthed.

“The voice of the body, and the urgent need to listen to that voice, thrums throughout this collection,” writes author Gayle Brandeis in the foreword to “Awakenings.” It’s an apt description for the explorations of the 49 writers, the majority of whom are women. They dive deeply into their bodies—examining everything from their hearts to their hands to their hair to their teeth—and unearth deep insights into the stories contained there.

Under the careful editing of Diane Gottlieb, the writers who contributed to this collection are as diverse as the emotions that spring from the page. Trauma, triumph, self-loathing, self-love, pain, joy, hurt, healing—the feelings transform from one essay to the next, leaving plenty for every reader to identify with.

A few examples:

“Clipped strands dapple the floor, dark, damp, curled, like autumn leaves, or tadpoles in a wetland, or too many commas,” writes Melissa Ostrom of a haircut in “Just Hair.”

Claudia Monpere, in “Men and Their Hands,” recalls her trauma from a past abuser: “This good man touches me only with affection or desire but there was that one time he nudged me—gently—to move faster because my slow walking was blocking a car trying to back up and I lost it and screamed at him to get his goddamn hands off me.”

“I came into the world all wrong—butt first, feet to face, folded in half. And that was how I made Lauren Beth Pahos a mother. I was backwards and inky and far too small, but my mom was completely in love,” writes Maggie Pahos in “Perfect,” an ode to her mother who passed away from cancer.

The images throughout “Awakenings” continue to resonate long after the final page. Just like our own bodies, like our own stories contained within, always reminding, never leaving.

Meet the Contributor

sarah evans reviewerSarah Evans is an Oregon writer and social justice activist who tries to raise marginalized voices by reviewing books written by and about people of color, women, and those who identify as LGBTQ+. She has an MFA in nonfiction writing from Pacific University.

Share a Comment