240 pages

Trade Paper

List Price US $19.99
ISBN: 9781934137017


ISBN: 9781934137901

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“A wonderful, multi-layered piece of writing, with all the insight of great cultural criticism and all the emotional pull of memoir. A fascinating book.”

Sarah Waters, author of The Night Watch and The Little Stranger

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“Mary Cappello[’s] inventive, associative taxonomy of discomfort . . . [is] revelatory indeed.”

Mark Doty, author of Dog Years: A Memoir and Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems

“For any memoirist writing today, but particularly for one whose class, ethnicity, and sexuality may have left her with the feeling that she’s ‘still arriving,’ there’s strong motivation to stick to the interstate, hoping it will lead to a stunning epiphany, a twelve-city book tour, and a fat movie deal. I find something bracingly feminist, daringly queer, and poignantly democratic in Mary Cappello’s choice to take the nearest exit. Her rare articulation of life’s off-kilter moments makes me feel less alone in my own awkward interior.”

Women’s Review of Books

“With keen skills of observation and careful attention to language, Cappello has crafted an elegant illustration of her conclusion that ‘awkwardness isn’t something to grow out of but to grow into.'”

Publishers Weekly

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“At once comforting and startling….Cappello’s adventurous meditation…makes memory seem like something worth re-making, and not the casual currency it has become. It is a remarkable achievement.”

Adam Phillips, author of Going Sane and Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life

“An original, psychologically and culturally insightful book, a great pleasure to read.”

Josip Novakovich, author of Infidelities: Stories of War and Lust and April Fool’s Day

“Daring in both content and form, Awkward is a wonderfully unpredictable riff on the human predicament.”

Dawn Raffel, author of Carrying the Body and The Secret Life of Objects

“With Awkward: A Detour, Mary Cappello becomes to my mind now the Kepler of human flesh and bone and of the soul of the worlds in which they move….Hers is a wonderful, suddenly essential book.”

Donald Revell, author of The Art of Attention: A Poet’s Eye and Tantivy

Without awkwardness we would not know grace, stability, or balance. Yet no one before Mary Cappello has turned such a penetrating gaze on this misunderstood condition. Fearlessly exploring the ambiguous borders of identity, she mines her own life journeys—from Russia, to Italy, to the far corners of her heart and the depths of a literary or cinematic text—to decipher the powerful messages that awkwardness can transmit.

Los Angeles Times Bestseller

Excerpt from Awkward

One day I read in order to know things, another day, to know the truth. I read to be aided in my lust—to be seduced to feel, to be lured out. I read not to be alone. I want for my day to be split open by a tidal wave of strange imaginings when I read, for something, anything, to break through. A book gains a place on my shelf for the way it forces me to remember. A sentence becomes locked in my heart for the way it helps me to forget. I admit to enjoying that “good feeling” of being in the midst of something higher and better when I read, but lately I long for a literature that can throw a wrench into the works. A mucking up of the machinery is called for, and instantly I wonder how it came to be a wrench that won that telling phrase rather than a screwdriver or a hammer, because a wrench seems so right now, so necessary to messing things up and forcing the plant to shut down. Had someone been tightening by way of repairing a delicate part when, distracted, they “lost their grip” and dropped the tool into a spring of well-greased gears, or did overzealousness for work bring the whole works to a standstill? Some anger slipped through, slipping into the work; the worker tightened too well and too hard until the wrench flew. Perhaps no accident at all incited the phrase but a worker’s quite conscious rebellion. Some momentous act must have lent the world a new sense of the “wrench,” but now it is yours and mine to use, and use well and more often until wrench has nothing to do with a tool for tightening bolts and everything to do with injury (an ankle, say), and suddenness (a tightening in the stomach), anguish even (you grip your gut), and distorted meanings (desperately you wrest matter from nothingness). The further the wrench travels from the feeling of cold metal in my hand, the closer it comes to becoming a word: see it now standing at the far end of all that happens to us daily for which we have no words. The worker has vanished.

You write the book you want to read.

Something has to give.

I try to forget my computer. I compose a novel using crayons and no sharpener. I experience a waxen feel and acknowledge unplumbed resources. If I write with my arm in a monkey grip, if I compose awkwardly—forget grace—the truth will out. I will not allow myself certain phrases: no sentences can begin with the word “today,” or “now,” as if to plead originality, distinctness, departure, or difference. There are to be no arms raised in greeting, no morning dew, no illuminations clear as rock candy and just as liquid, dissolvable; no melting, no account of how “I began to understand.” No lilting, or claims of possibility, no coulds, how I could do this or that, no refrains but interruptions, and certainly no more than one reference to how I continue to avoid my reflection in the mirror, how “it begins in the body,” or my memory of swing sets. I’ve been chattering without knowing all the while that my interlocutor is deaf. Or that my interlocutor is my deaf self. I’ve been listening without hearing a thing my companion has said. Are these the conditions for awkward situations or just the norm? Poet: plaintive illuminator, exposer of secrets, paragon of self-pity who sometimes said what it was and sometimes said what it was like. Now. Today. Through the window gazing at the swing set.

But what if writing sought to describe all that has a claim on me that isn’t pretty? Give me a literature of the spasm. Let sentences plunge, a pear plashing through branches gleaming gold, a gift from the gods. No. Let them ooze like a mangled, rotten, half-bitten possibly poisonous hapless thing landing with a splat onto a well- intended platter. Make a paragraph out of overstuffed drawers, the stuff of attempted purges, all you’ve pushed out of sight without discarding, the drawer overflowing, the drawer that refused to be neatened, that is refuse, what is refused but can’t be gotten rid of. Fashion a voice that can break the spell. Where I thought the ground was smooth, I now feel its graininess poking up into my heels, scraping my arches, piercing toes, the sound of a person pushing a locomotive up the street, beneath my window, the trundling of an overloaded trash can on wheels.

I will seek out awkwardness over and against revelation, even if I find myself beginning again, against my better judgment, with a dream.

Mary Cappello, author of Awkward: A Detour, discusses her work with Propeller magazine.