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"One More for the People": Martha Grover's Illuminating Essays 

Wednesday, Feb 1 2012

Over the course of One More for the People, her too-short first book, Martha Grover dishes to us about cheese-selling, a childhood near-death experience, growing up in a trailer, having weird dreams about being fat, all the crazy nonsense that goes down at a year's worth of family meetings, and all the ways that Cushing's disease can ravage a body and life.

I use the verb "dishes," but that's not what she does, exactly. There isn't an exact word or genre for it yet. For almost a decade, Grover has penned essays about her life and collected them in Somnambulist, a teensy miracle of a print zine that steams ahead despite the death of print around it. Those essays — collected here — are revealing, and deeply personal, but not confessional in the mode of most memoirs.

Instead, they're patient, thorough examinations of the individual moments in a life — the day the doctor diagnosed her, or what disease has done to her bathroom habits, or the Thanksgiving she and some sisters put on a puppet show. She cuts these moments open, exposes their guts, and pins them to a board for our edification. This she accomplishes not with clinical coldness but with the easygoing directness of the best conversation: You know that feeling when a talk with a dear friend runs long, hits truth, and takes on the urgency that comes with late-night honesty? Many of Grover's chapters start there.

"Bleeding," about how Cushing's disease has led to weight gain and the cessation of her periods, opens, "I pull down my underwear in a filthy bar bathroom and there it is on the crotch of my yellow, extra-large panties: blood, a dark, crimson smear of it. I smile at the sight of my own blood."

And like that good friend, Grover is funny as hell. The collection's first section is dispatches from the cheese counter of a high-end Portland grocery store, where customers ask her things like "If I were a bagel and I didn't want anyone to find me, where would I be?" (Grover's response: "If you were a bagel and you didn't want anyone to find you, you wouldn't be in the bakery, but that's where you are.")

Later, she leaves behind the conversational for pure conversation: She devotes some 35 pages to an interview with her grandfather, a one-time roustabout of some renown. It's no mark against Grover's prose that actual talk, transcribed, is one of the book's highlights. One More for the People is an intimate, hilarious, affecting collection, one that stakes out new territory between talk, journal, memoir, and essay, one touched with the everyday sort of poetry that comes from a close connection to someone you've come to care for.

About The Author

Alan Scherstuhl

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