The Lost Journals of Sylvia Plath by Kimberly Knutsen is an ambitious novel that weaves in elements of Sylvia Plath’s life subtly, and the Lavender family is on the edge of crisis. Katie is a mother of three whose wild ways secure her in a nuclear family, one that she is ill-equipped to navigate without stumbling. Wilson is a former addict attempting to finish his PhD, while engaging young students in women’s studies courses. Much of the novel is a series of flashbacks to Katie’s tormented past and an event that changed her forever, before Katie’s sister arrives on her doorstep to stir up even more trouble.
“Victimized by sex is the human race. Animals, the fortunate lower beasts, go into heat. Then they are through with the thing, while we poor lustful humans, caged by mores, chained by circumstance, writhe and agonize with the appalling and demanding fire licking always at our loins.” – Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath
Knutsen’s novel seems to explore Plath’s comments about sex and married life as personified in Katie. She has a husband who is her best friend, but she cannot confide in him about her lustful need to conquer their younger neighbor, Steven. Meanwhile, Wilson has felt trapped from day one after Katie announced her pregnancy, but like an addict, he dives in head first into the marriage pool. He wants to give it his all, but even as he does, these strong personalities cannot live in the same space without arguments and other adverse effects.
“There were two worlds when I was a kid. The Cinderella world, with its fancy light, is the one I miss. It lasted until I was eight. Then it disappeared.” (pg. IX)
“There was a second world. It was the texture of pumice. It was the taste of metal in my mouth. It was the stopped heart, the brain that could never catch its breath. This world eclipsed the Cinderella world, and it visits me still in the night, sliding along the edges of the room, slipping into my mouth to sit in my throat, acrid and black, its tendrils snaking down to hook, but good, my heart.” (pg. X)
Although Wilson is meant to be rewriting Plath’s lost journals — those that went missing or were destroyed as his doctoral dissertation — he finds his hours spent in the office not writing. Perhaps he has lost faith in his knowledge of women since his marriage to Katie has begun to crack, or perhaps he has come to the conclusion that he is a farce of the genius image he has created throughout his academic career. Knutsen examines the illusion of a happy marriage, especially between traumatized people.
The people in this world are highly damaged and have lost their moral ground, but rather than fight against the nature they are familiar with to create a new life, a changed life, they step into their old shoes. The Lost Journals of Sylvia Plath by Kimberly Knutsen is about lost souls whose lives are documented only by their relations and themselves. Some readers may have a tough time reading some of these situations and the language, but overall, Knutsen has captured the darker side of trauma and its long-term effects.
Check out my interview with Knutsen, here.
About the Author:
A native Portlander, Kimberly Knutsen is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She has an MA in English from New Mexico State University and a PhD in English from Western Michigan University. She has won many fellowships and awards for her writing and has published short stories in The Hawaii Review and the Cimarron Review. She has written a novel, The Lost Journals of Sylvia Plath, and is currently finishing a second novel, Violet.
Kim comes to Portland from Kalamazoo, Michigan where she taught writing and women’s studies at Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo Valley Community College. She loves working with her students at CU and is continually amazed by their intelligence, creativity, kindness and wisdom.