The Way Home by Ashley Inguanta; Reviewed by Danielle Dyal
Ashley Inguanta’s chapbook The Way Home (Dancing Girl Press) is a collection of lingering moments, echoes of feelings written on paper in fresh and captivating prose that I can’t help but describe with contradiction. Nostalgic, regretful, and overwhelmingly relieved all at once, the voice is universal and wholly unique. We see this interaction with past and present from the very first flash piece, which is also the title story. “The Way Home” ends, “If only I knew what was inside of me back then.” The rest of the chapbook responds with the answer of what is inside of this narrator in snapshots of moments that create a story without the limitations of linearity, such as in “Wires and Light,” which appeared in Pindeldyboz, the line, “My heart was a giant thing that bulged and stretched bedroom walls,” or in flash fiction piece “Shells,” where Inguanta writes, “I wanted to kiss the woman, but those rocks in my chest. I couldn’t move.” The collection is both surprising and comforting, a pattern of flash fiction thick with vivid images that you can’t help but suck on like hard candies that stain your tongue, leaving the taste in your mouth hours later. This chapbook is an accomplishment of emotion and the way words should feel, and despite the lyricism of the piece, there is a distinct narrative woven throughout. The Way Home offers a story of the bloom and loss of what Inguanta refuses to simplify with the labels “belonging” and “love.” It tells of both the hesitation from and the desperation for these labels, the way they gouge, the way they fulfill, and the way they, inevitably, take you back home.
How much of this is autobiographical? And whether this is autobiographical or not, is your intention for readers to read the chapbook under the impression that it is?
Prairie is real. I met him in Santa Fe in 2011, and he whispered a secret into my ear at a local baseball game. When I was twelve, I caught sight of a woman I thought was beautiful, and I felt something romantic towards her. That moment shaped my teenage years. In Los Angeles, I had a dream that was really a premonition, warning me that a former friend had died. That moment turned into “The Good Things,” which is more like a wish than a story. A cowboy once held a pin to my eye, cornered me, and made me listen to him. My mother really does hold clay in her hands. She made me from it. And let me tell you, years ago I saw an angel in a family sedan. It took everything inside of me not to hitch a ride and ask if we could take an interplanetary detour. Instead, I felt her history, her clay. I am Clementine, and she is Clay, Anchor. All of this is really one story–the story of my heart connecting with other hearts.
When writing The Way Home, I did not think about whether people would see these stories as true. Sometimes, it’s very hard for me to make distinctions between genres, especially when many of these stories are taken over by wish, by dream. My intention was to tell true stories and to honor how living on this planet can harness our imaginations.
The Way Home is organized into four distinct parts, which give the chapbook a narrative arc despite the apparent disjointedness of the stories. Even so, it is clear that the stories are connected, separated only by scattered time and the emotional maturity of the characters. How did you go about ordering them – was the “storyline” obvious to you, or did it take time to realize in what order the stories best fit together even though they can stand on their own?
I pieced together this little book from a much larger book called Wires and Light. Wires and Light is a work of autofiction and poetry, and it hasn’t been published yet. I wrote Wires and Light in grad school, and when I finished in 2011, I took some time to roam America. I began in Palos Verdes, California, headed to Long Beach, went up to Sacramento and San Francisco, and from there I headed to Albuquerque and Santa Fe. While I was on the road, I pieced together The Way Home. I was coming to terms with the death of someone who used to be a very close friend. I was also trying to understand (and tame) my romantic feelings for a woman that I could never have.
I remember writing the introduction to The Way Home. The words came out quickly, but not effortlessly. I knew I was living on the outskirts of another woman’s life. I knew I had to make some sort of peace with the death of someone who helped shape me. So, once I wrote the introduction, it became clear to me that this cluster of words would become the storyline of the book, and I would use certain phrases in the introduction to mark changes in “era.”
When the focal character discovers her body is made of light, she learns she can hop through time. She also discovers danger. Soon after, she understands her world is burning down, and this fire is brief and hard. From there, she lands on the outskirts of another woman’s life, and it’s like an earthquake over there. Everything’s disjointed and shaky. But after the quake, the world shifts. The calm after the storm: The lullaby, the private places we create when we are desperate for peace. The instruments we find inside of ourselves when we rest, listen, open.
The entirety of Part III, entitled, “Just a Bunch of Muse Girls Hanging Out in the Desert,” stands out from the rest of the chapbook. It is a collection of incredibly short pieces, some of which are one line, one of which has no words altogether (“Before”). Can you talk a little about how this portion of the chapbook came to take on such a different structure, and if you had any specific intention in doing so?
Originally this piece was the appendix to my thesis, Wires and Light. I was low on page count, and my advisor told me to write anything. She goes, “Write anything you want. Have fun.” So I wrote Muse Girls. I wanted to write a piece that honored the feeling of living on the outskirts—feeling love but not being able to sing it into life.
When I wrote Muse Girls, I remember thinking, “Finally, I am saying what I want to say.” I honestly didn’t consider how the structure would be received. I just knew that I was expressing something I always wanted to, but for some reason I could not. Writing Muse Girls helped me connect to my sexuality, my frustrations, and my failures—all of which were (and are) tremendous gifts.
While most of the chapbook is written in first person, there are a few third person pieces, such as “Peaks” and “There’s a Hound Inside Her Lungs.” I understand that “There’s a Hound Inside Her Lungs” was previously published before this chapbook. Was it ever an option to change the story to fit the first person style of most of The Way Home, or did you deliberately shift the point of view for these stories?
I wrote Hound about a man who really tried to hurt me. He stopped before things got bad. I didn’t know how else to write this moment. The Way Home is like a map. The introduction is its legend, and there are many unpaved roads. Hounds is an unpaved road. It’s a surprise. It’s a secret. It used to be an unnamed street, but here I give it a name.
So to answer your question, I didn’t consider switching POV with Hounds. It felt okay to leave it this way. My only intention was to honor the moment as much as possible.
Can you explain the reasoning behind the titles of your stories? How do you come up with your titles? Do you do so before you write your stories, or after?
Titling is extremely hard for me. Most of the time, I will title a story after it’s written, and usually the title comes from a line in the story itself. Sometimes, though, I will spend hours (or even days, sometimes longer) trying to pull a title from the story’s sense of growth or mood. Titles are like poems in their own right. I treat each title as if it’s separate from the piece—it must sound good on its own. And yet, the title belongs to the piece, so it has to connect. Titling is a balancing act.
This is probably an impossible question regarding such a gorgeous collection of stories, but do you have a favorite piece, and why?
“The Heart of America” is my favorite piece in the collection. I wrote it with a very big sense of hope, and I believe it will bring hope to others. I wanted to leap into the future. I wanted to challenge myself to move through time, to hold the past, to sit with the present, and to speak Possibility with assurance and bravery. I wanted to explore death, to harness it, to express its brightness and terror. When writing this piece, I felt like I could finally be myself. Like I could say anything. Like I could roam with a healthy sense of brazenness and fear. Like I could find love.
Better yet – While I was reading this, I was constantly smitten by your writing and choice of phrase. My favorite lines, “We hurt like Earth hurt when she caught orbit. We love like the moon loved when she held on,” come from “Ether,” and I kept returning to them, rereading them, knowing that if I had written them, I would have been immensely proud. What story in this chapbook are you proudest of?
Thank you. Tremendously. Sometimes I feel like the Earth caught orbit and we (humans) don’t even know how that force has impacted us. How gravity works on our hearts.
When it comes to the story I am most proud of, my first instinct was to say “The Heart of America.” Even though that is my favorite piece in the collection, I am actually most proud of “Healer,” which is part of Muse Girls. “Healer” is about anorexia, the ability to have children, and how we can heal ourselves. This piece corresponds with this line in the introduction: “Once, a wise woman told me I could heal both of us.”
I used to treat love and anorexia as if they were two separate things, two separate parts of my life. But now I realize how connected they are. How essential it is for a lover to understand this part of my history. In fact, this may be the rockiest road of all. Harder than living on the outskirts. At least this is the way I feel. I do my best to write from my heart, to honor the way people move through my life.
“Healer” taught me that it is possible to write a very difficult truth.
Healing from an eating disorder is its own map. This very specific part of my body’s history is something I don’t talk about often, but it is necessary to write about, especially when trying to find the way home.
Listen to Inguanta read THE EDGE OF THE WORLD first published in Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine, November 2015 as part of the Women Who Flash Their Lit forum by Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine and Press.
The Way Home: Dancing Girl Press & Studio, 2013 can be found at http://dulcetshop.myshopify.com/products/the-way-home-ashley-inguanta-1
For the Woman Alone: Ampersand Books, 2015 can be found at http://ampersand-books.com/product/for-the-woman-alone/
Ashley Inguanta is a writer and photographer who is driven by landscape, place. She is the author of three collections: The Way Home (Dancing Girl Press 2013), For The Woman Alone (Ampersand Books 2014), and Bomb (forthcoming with Ampersand Books in 2016). Her work has appeared in PANK, Wigleaf, Adrienne: A Poetry Journal of Queer Women, OCHO, Corium Magazine, Bartleby Snopes, the Rough Magick anthology, and other literary spaces. Ashley is also the Art Director of SmokeLong Quarterly, and this year she received an Orlando Weekly “Best Of” award for her poetry. Currently she is working with musician Sarah Morrison, creating on a series of projects that combine music, visual art, and language.
Danielle Dyal studies English Writing and Communications at the University of Pittsburgh, where she writes and reads too much. She has been published in several literary magazines and is an aspiring novelist, inspired by the works of JK Rowling, George Saunders, and Markus Zusak, among many others. She is an Assistant Editor at Bartleby Snopes and has an internship at Enitharmon Press.