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Creative Engagement with Liz Latty’s Split (Unthinkable Creatures, 2012)


Latty’s little sweet ‘Unthinkable Creature’ begins with a simultaneous dedication to “my mother” and “the missing.” We are brought into this story on a mysterious cusp. We can gather who “my mother” might be in relation to Latty but “the missing” could mean Latty’s missing of mother or it could mean Latty’s mother is now missing. There are options here (as far as a compass goes). These options are exciting as we move through the text.

Often, in adoption scenarios (I was just listening to one version of this last night on a talk show on the radio!) the mother figure is the one who eventually understands the need to ride in on a white horse, cape flapping in the breeze to offer recompense to the child that they left. Latty states: “I knew my mother must have been longing for forgiveness so I went to find her.” What an intimate and intuitive chivalry to be the child as the one who instigates! We get the feeling that Latty has long imagined (sitting on the edge of the bed) mother in different scenarios, with different faces, so it is brave for Latty to reach out to “mother” in any form that hopes for intimacy returned.

In Split, there are many indications of pain, of the gaps that remain even in the effort to create connections. Speaking of Latty’s own stomach as “weak in character” and “masochistic” we get a hint by page four that Latty’s allergy to “love and milk” will continue to position Latty (and us by extension and proximity) in pain and struggle. When they get close enough to be staring into each other “face to face” Latty sees that mother is “repulsed” by Latty; Latty sees that fact as literal confirmation that “she must be my mother.”

Mother’s issues push on Latty. Latty takes these feelings to the therapist. After being diagnosed “unparentable” by therapist, Latty decides that the simultaneous hatred of mother and hatred of self must be altered, addressed. On the page post Latty’s decision (in Split) there is a picture of a girl (on one side of the open-face book the girl is standing in grass, wearing a traditional girl’s dress, on the other side the girl seems to be running off the page, disappearing from view). This is the first time in the book that I feel safe to assume that Latty identifies (or at least identified) as a girl/she, so from this point forward I will use traditionally feminine pronoun in reference to her.

Latty says of her body that “its cells hold memories she [does] not have room for.” Post diagnosis as unparentable, we are with Latty at what I assume to be the therapist’s office, the gynecologist (so many layers of lecturers). Latty has an orgasm while she is being talked at by the gyno, that lengthy speculum inside of her. As she is being lectured Latty is trying to emphasize that there is a different between someone “hurting” her and the issues of the complexities of her body (“I can’t eat without getting sick”/ “mother here I am. You split” me).

Mother comes in and is “clung to [] like netting” then seemingly as quickly as she came in mother leaves (“I never heard from her again”), never giving Latty the longed for, nourishing “yes,” the open chest and full breast of a mother to a child.  Latty responds with sorrow: “splice and separation” as the noun entrail becomes a verb (“entrail the mind and the body that never returned to you”).

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