And the Floor Was
-Book Reviewed by Dustin Fisher–
And the Floor was Always Lava is the forthcoming essay collection by Michelle Junot. Reminiscent of The Butterfly Effect, a film in which Ashton Kutcher transports himself back in time by reading passages about his childhood, Junot’s book provides a similar portal for discovery.
The collection opens with a prologue introducing the adult Michelle who is moving far from her Louisiana home to Baltimore for graduate school. The transition is life changing. Junot carefully introduces readers to her new and evolving character, before sending them back in time to find out how she arrived at this critical juncture.
As a memoirist, Junot has a unique gift, the ability to seamlessly write from the perspective of childhood innocence while including mature, adult insights. Her prose invites readers to view the world through the eyes of a child, while simultaneously granting a bird’s eye perspective of life events. In her essay Paranoid, she talks about eavesdropping on her older sister and her friends from outside their bedroom.
If she took two steps forward, she’d discover me. But she didn’t know I hid there sometimes, so she went back into our room and closed the door. I heard one of her friends say the word paranoid but I didn’t know what it meant. I suspected it was some sort of code name for me.
Junot recalls what it’s like to be shunned by an older sibling with whom she desperately wants to spend time. Although the scene is recounted in a child’s voice, an adult’s subtle and sarcastic wit underlies her memory.
In Just Rinse the Damn Dish, she writes from the perspective of her parents, listing all the rules they have bestowed on her throughout the years. Nobody likes taking orders, and this is an essay to which both rebellious children and their parents will relate. Readers beware, the traumas of growing up under strict surveillance never fade easily, and Junot begs her audience to recall instances in their own lives when mom and dad delivered ultimatums.
“Don’t put anything on the stairs. Never block the pathway to the stairs. Never block any pathway anywhere. Why would you even consider it?”
Michelle is able to simultaneously give the perspective of the father, to which these rules seem self-evident upon birth, while also giving the child’s viewpoint. The little girl simply doesn’t understand why doing things like blocking the stairs is such a big deal.
There’s a hint of pixie dust charm elevating the essay, Like Camouflage. Here, readers meet the child version of Michelle, a girl who doesn’t want to grow up, because “growing up meant being brave, even without a night light.”
Drawn into her childhood world of rotating pets and non-washable “colors” (crayons), readers have a chance to grow up with Michelle, experiencing the fun games, sad events, and the confusing emotions that all continue to influence the author’s adult sensibilities. Ultimately the threads tie together, returning readers to the opening scene, where the adult Michelle is preparing to move 37 hours away from home. Nerves linger, but as Junot’s book illustrates, reflection breeds confidence. She has acquired wisdom on her treks through old memories.
The book is a fast read. If only childhood were as easy to get through as these 124 pages; most of the essays are short glimpses and dreamy reflections. The perfect nightstand companion, readers may find themselves staying up later than expected. Junot simply won’t go to bed! And the Floor was Always Lava is difficult to put to down.
Junot’s collection is a delightful romp through one innocent girl’s childhood, culminating in a young woman’s symbolic act of independence: moving out. The author brilliantly captures the stubborn instincts of a child in an inviting voice that gradually and for the most part, gracefully, matures. Relevant to anyone who has ever been a parent or a child, the book delivers laughs and endearing memories. Only those with adverse physical reactions to humor, or perhaps, grumps who grew up too fast, should steer clear.
Book Available May 9th. Purchase copies at http://michellejunot.com
Post Photo Courtesy of Michelle Junot