Monday, July 8, 2019

Book Review: Born Again by Ivy Johnson

Ivy Johnson
The Operating System
112 pgs.

I really like the tightly constructed, and tightly wound, poems and prose essays and narratives in this gripping and sometimes disturbing collection. They center on the experiences of a young woman shedding her small town, Christian past and remaking herself, and finding herself remade, in an urban environment unlike the one she was raised in.

These are Gothic-influenced poems, but not in any clich├ęd way. Like much that’s Gothic they don’t reject Christianity outright so much as turn its imagery into new forms of worship and obsession and a woman’s determination to find a self that could never have emerged in the environment where she grew up. The dynamics of dominance and subservience are unique and surprising. The prose pieces are more loosely structured and narrative than the sharply-lined poems and tend to fill in elements of the narrative that the poems mostly just suggest. The writing is blunt, sexually but not only sexually, yet also implies many barely spoken and sometimes unspoken struggles. Intriguingly, the book both tells a lot and tells only a little. The book is not memoir; its intention is to lift itself beyond a recounting of experience.

Anyone interested in the Gothic and religion and American culture in cities and small towns will find Born Again fascinating. Any woman who has used the Gothic subculture or perspective as a way to overcome a small town or Christian upbringing will find it essential.