I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness: A vibrant, shapeshifting novel

Book review: Claire Vaye Watkins covers subjects from motherhood to Manson Family

Claire Vaye Watkins: her writing has a transgressive approach to motherhood and marriage

Claire Vaye Watkins: her writing has a transgressive approach to motherhood and marriage

How to assess the third book by Claire Vaye Watkins, the marvellously titled I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness? Billed as a novel in small print on the cover, the book comprises a journey narrative by a woman called Claire Vaye Watkins; real-life inserts from the memoirs of the author’s father, Paul, who was part of the Manson Family; fictionalised letters written by the narrator’s mother; and a section from the perspective of an angry toddler, all capped off by some poetry and multiple-choice quizzes on postnatal depression. Darkness, it appears, comes in many forms.

Vaye Watkins is to be commended for this ambitious, shapeshifting book whose primary narrative – a woman on the lam from her life as mother, wife and academic in Ann Arbor, Michigan – proceeds at a fittingly breakneck speed. The story, which is to say the very loose framework that holds things together, sees the narrator Claire take a trip to Reno, Nevada to speak about her writing to a group of students. This makes for a funny set piece. Woefully unprepared, and coming down off mushrooms, she gets the audience to lie on the ground and shut their eyes for a creative writing “exercise” she just about manages to pull off. 

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