“MFA Fiction” Book Review: What We Lose

Besides YA literature, which is the target genre for my WIP manuscript, I read from others as well. I’ve read a few other books by MFA degree holders, aiming to absorb elements of their writing styles, which I expect to be more artistic and land with a sort of “oomph.” What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons was a challenging read because of the untraditional narrative structure, as you’ll see in my review, but I learned about a race different from my own, as well as experienced an emotional impact. That is extremely valuable.


whatwelosecover
Image from Amazon. I do not claim any rights.

I’m not going to lie, I was definitely intrigued by the beautiful cover of this book (as well as its title). The premise then reeled in the rest of me. As someone who’s also lost a parent, I wanted to see how Clemmons describes and weaves a story tinged with grief. The elements in the narrative itself, about how the semi-autobiographical protagonist observes her mother dying and then spirals after her death, aren’t entirely outlandish, but the style this book was written in has off-put some readers. It’s split into three parts, interspersed with long quotes, single-sentence pages, and even graphs (nothing too crazy, don’t worry). At times it does feel disjointed, so that I had to ask myself, “where is this taking me?” Altogether though, it makes this book a truly artistic work, a statement. I can’t say I’ll want to read too many books in this style, but it worked for me here. Besides grief, this book delves into topics of race (very piercing observations), relationships, and sexuality, just at a breakneck pace sometimes.

However, as Clemmons is an MFA grad, you can expect top-notch, piercing writing throughout. I’ll end my review with a non-spoiler-y quote from near the end of the story that hit me in the gut: “Some things have to go away, I tell myself. That is just the way it is.”


Originally published at J Wang.

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