I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness

Claire Vaye Watkins

I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness
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I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness

Claire Vaye Watkins

A darkly funny, soul-rending novel of love in an epoch of collapse-one woman’s furious revisiting of family, marriage, work, sex, and motherhood.


Since my baby was born, I have been able to laugh and see the funny side of things. a) As much as I ever did. b) Not quite as much now. c) Not so much now. d) Not at all. Leaving behind her husband and their baby daughter, a writer gets on a flight for a speaking engagement in Reno, not carrying much besides a breast pump and a spiraling case of postpartum depression. Her temporary escape from domestic duties and an opportunity to reconnect with old friends mutates into an extended romp away from the confines of marriage and motherhood, and a seemingly bottomless descent into the past. Deep in the Mojave Desert where she grew up, she meets her ghosts at every turn: the first love whose self-destruction still haunts her; her father, a member of the most famous cult in American history; her mother, whose native spark gutters with every passing year. She can’t go back in time to make any of it right, but what exactly is her way forward? Alone in the wilderness, at last she begins to make herself at home in the world.

Bold, tender, and often hilarious, I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness reaffirms Watkins as one of the signal writers of our time.

Review

‘I’ve tried to tell this story a bunch of times. This will be my last try…’ So begins Claire Vaye Watkins’ crackling original novel I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness. Its narrator is a woman called Claire Vaye Watkins. She’s jumping on a flight to Reno, leaving behind her husband and baby. Heavy with postpartum depression and now deep in the Mojave Desert where she grew up, she wrestles with the ghosts of her past. The result is an extraordinary hybrid of autobiography and fiction; a surreal tale of love, sex, death and domesticity at once devastating and darkly funny.

Vaye Watkins blazed onto the writing scene with her multi-award-winning short-story collection Battleborn, which she followed up with the brutal and beautiful novel Gold Fame Citrus. These books burn with the grit and tenderness of the American desert: apocalyptic cocktails of faith, psychedelics and adventure bred from their distinctly harsh environment. I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness is similarly an off-the-grid desert adventure, but one that borrows more from the author’s life than her previous works. Its narrator, Claire, shares the author’s name, age and profession. She also shares the same tumultuous family history – her father Paul was a key member of the Manson cult, her mother Martha an opiate - addict. Both died young, leaving behind larger-than-life legacies and sharp memories that their daughter Claire must reckon with.

Within that reckoning, this book was born – a miraculous, vulnerable work of autofiction charged with wit and candour. I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness is an ambitious account of one woman’s fraught relationship with motherhood, monogamy, and the family ties that feel impossible to shake. This remarkable novel is a breath of fresh air; it’s a feverish trip, a rollercoaster ride and a history lesson all at once, and utterly unlike anything else.


Stella Charls is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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