5 Stars Reviews

Book Review: Life of the Party by Olivia Gatwood

Olivia Gatwood’s first full length collection looks at what it’s like to grow up as a girl and grow into a woman in world where so much violence is afflicted upon girls and women; a world where our popular culture feeds on their pain.

I want to know
what it means to survive

does it just mean
I get to keep my body?

When I opened my birthday present from one of my closest friends to find this collection, I was so pleased. I adored Olivia Gatwood’s first collection, New American Best Friend, and her first full-length collection in the form of Life of the Party has only endeared me more to her work.

Gatwood interrogates our culture’s love of true crime, of which I’m guilty, and asks why it is that we’re so fascinated with the brutal murders of women, yet silent when those women are not pretty, perfect, and white. She talks about how these stories have instilled fear into her daily life and the daily lives of all women, so much so that it’s now second nature to us to walk home with our keys between our knuckles, glancing over our shoulder; another aspect of this collection that really resonated with me.

The narrative of the life of her childhood babysitter is weaved between the poems, allowing the book to feel like a story rather than a jumble of vaguely-linked verse. Gatwood in conjunction with her editor, I’m sure, have managed to arrange the poems in a way that lets them link and flow seamlessly without having them blur into one another.

Every poem has something important to say and not once did I find myself bored or my mind wandering. That said, I did have (more than) a few favourites: ‘Girl’, the closing line of which gives the collection its name; ‘If a Girl Screams in the Middle of the Night’; ‘The Autocross’; ‘Murder of a Little Beauty’, in which Gatwood tackles the coverage of the JonBenét Ramsey case; ‘The Sandias, 2008’, about heartbreak and good fathers; ‘My Mother’s Addendum’; ‘When They Find Him’, about the hunt for the Golden State Killer that last almost half a century; and finally, ‘Ode to the Women of Long Island’, which also featured in New American Best Friend but still hasn’t lost its punch and wit.

Honestly, I cannot recommend this collection enough and it’s definitely one I’ll be picking up again and again.

Rating: 5 / 5 stars

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