In The Argonauts Maggie Nelson presents her well considered, sometimes complex thoughts and experiences of love, gender, sex, pregnancy, parenthood and family in contexts outside of the traditional.
Perhaps the most important takeaway from the book is the lesson that change may not be a journey toward something as much as it is a turning away from something. To turn away might be enough, it isn’t always necessary to arrive at a particular destination.
Throughout the book Maggie Nelson challenges us not to accept binary labels and reminds us that every person, every relationship, every family is unique. She generously allows that we may need to learn things multiple times as we learn, forget, learn again.
This is an extremely intelligent memoir. True to Maggie Nelson’s style it doesn’t fit into the category of “memoir” as easily as most – it’s perhaps closer to an essay. But it is a close and unashamed examination of Nelson’s internal and external life. It is intimate and requires attention to every word but it is accessible and rewarding.
The description of the Christmas mug Maggie’s mother gifted her one year is delightful and was, for me the point at which I felt I “got” this book. “This is the most heteronormative thing I’ve ever seen” says a visiting friend. The mug has an image Maggie’s partner Harry, Harry’s son & a pregnant Maggie, all dressed in their best, looking for all the world like the traditional, nuclear family.
I also loved Maggie Nelson’s take on “love.” I’ve heard of people who believe “I love you” is something to be withheld and presented formally, only when earned, and only on rare occasions. But Nelson sees each utterance of “I love you” as a renewal. I couldn’t agree more. “I love you” doesn’t get stale by repetition – it becomes more powerful, more meaningful and more true.
Rightly, Nelson narrates her own work. It’s an intimate story and to put another narrator between Maggie and the reader might lessen the impact. However her voice is a little monotone which makes it harder to listen to long stints. A professional narrator would make the book easier to read, but it might also make the book less personal.
This is a fascinating read that will broaden the worldview of any reader. Take what you will from it, you cannot be the same person having read The Argonauts.
The Argonauts • by Maggie Nelson • read by Maggie Nelson • 4.8 hours • published by Blackstone Audio • August 4, 2016 • ISBN 9781504660822