It has been a treat reading this book. It took me under an hour to read, but it’s taken days to digest. Imagine not knowing what your body is.
I’ve always said that I have parsnip legs; they’re long and effing pale, wide at the top, tapering out into teeny little toes (stublets). I’ve spent a large, unnecessary portion of my life worrying about them. Will people notice how my inner knee caves in each step? What about those “child bearing hips” (warning, if you ever say that phrase seriously, you gon be slapped). Jenny Powell’s novella, The Case of the Missing Body, is a good reminder to rest such useless paranoia and be proud of legs that work, that run, that dance, legs that require little cognitive input and locating to do what they’re meant to do.
This memoir is a real-life story of a local Dunedinite who has to learn to think about her legs, and her arm, and her shoulder, and her core and her butt. All those things that are immediate to who we are; the bits and lumps of flesh that determine how we interact with the world around us. This memoir explores the minute threads and interactions that tether the protagonist, Lily, to her body. It recounts her Sisyphean efforts to understand how to move her body, how to make it do the body things. In our day-to-day lives, we can just do things. I can just type things. I didn’t even try and contemplate or figure out how I was going to make my finger tip hit the keyboard. I just wanted it to happen. And so it did. For Lily, some things do just happen, and some things that used to happen just stop. As if she is a marionette doll, as if someone else is in there, in her head, controlling, and only occasionally can she herself break through. What is special about this short story is how deeply we/you/I (the reader) want to get into Lily’s head too. But we can’t; her experience is so unfathomable, so foreign, that if we did suppose to know what she was going through, it would seem perverted, unfair.
Powell usually finds herself labeled a poet, and her lyrical skill comes through in many aspects of the memoir. It’s structured as journal entries, days on and off at the gym. Reflections are cut through with disappointments. Emails (I am not sure if they are the real ones or not) interspersed through these journal entries help tie us to Lily’s peculiar way of experiencing life. The way she is always so far in, so deeply stuck in her own experience, that she loses her body, where it is. What it means. This gives rise to the most poetic aspect of Powell’s book; realising how much our embodiment, our bodily existence, makes us who we are; literally defining where we end and the rest of the world begins.
For such a short, sweet book, that’s a stonkingly huge thought.