Verge: Stories
by Lidia Yuknavitch

Published: 2021-02-02T00:0
Paperback : 208 pages
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“Children harvest organs, janitors build magical worlds, and mourning lovers drive to destinations unknown in this searing, precise collection of short stories.” —Vogue

"Spellbinding." —O: The Oprah Magazine

“Bracing [and] profound.” —Entertainment Weekly

A fiercely ...

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“Children harvest organs, janitors build magical worlds, and mourning lovers drive to destinations unknown in this searing, precise collection of short stories.” —Vogue

"Spellbinding." —O: The Oprah Magazine

“Bracing [and] profound.” —Entertainment Weekly

A fiercely empathetic group portrait of the marginalized and outcast in moments of crisis, from one of the most galvanizing voices in American fiction.

Lidia Yuknavitch is a writer of rare insight into the jagged boundaries between pain and survival. Her characters are scarred by the unchecked hungers of others and themselves, yet determined to find salvation within lives that can feel beyond their control. In novels such as The Small Backs of Children and The Book of Joan, she has captivated readers with stories of visceral power. Now, in Verge, she offers a shard-sharp mosaic portrait of human resilience on the margins.

The landscape of Verge is peopled with characters who are innocent and imperfect, wise and endangered: an eight-year-old black-market medical courier, a restless lover haunted by memories of his mother, a teenage girl gazing out her attic window at a nearby prison, all of them wounded but grasping toward transcendence. Clear-eyed yet inspiring, Verge challenges us with moments of uncomfortable truth, even as it urges us to place our faith not in the flimsy guardrails of society but in the memories held—and told—by our own individual bodies.

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The Pull


In the water the swimmer feels weightless. The blue of the pool fills her ears and holds her body and shuts out the world. Swimming is her favorite state of being. On land, the swimmer can barely breathe.

She was not yet two, the story goes, when she first gravitated toward water. One afternoon, during a family trip to the Mediterranean Sea, she wandered off the edge of a dock before anyone could notice, dropping like a rock into the ocean. Her sister, five years older, dove in after her, pulling her back to the surface. When she emerged, she was smiling, not drowning. She remembers none of this; it's a vivid story her family tells.

But then her entire childhood is like one long story she doesn't want to hear. The kind of story that makes your chest grow tight as you listen.

She'd rather swim than anything else. She'd rather swim every day than remember a single moment of her childhood. She doesn't even remember the shapes of the buildings in her neighborhood. Home is a blown-up brick in her throat.

There is one family photo left hanging in the hallway outside her bedroom, taken at a long-forgotten family reunion. Between the unsmiling relatives are spaces where others should be standing: An uncle. A cousin. A brother or an aunt. As if the whole family were disappearing one body at a time.

She doesn't love anything more than water, except maybe her sister's face. Sometimes, at night, she smooths the crease between her sister's brows when she has bad dreams, as she has often since the tanks came. And her sister gently traces the cavities in her ear to help her go to sleep when her eyes stay open too late because she's afraid of mortar shells. Her sister is like a lifeline to her. Two girls, twinning themselves alive.

She never has nightmares. What she has, instead, are water visions. As if the water is speaking to her.

Move your arms as if you are free from gravity. Open your mouth if you like, but do not breathe as you breathe on land; rather remember that breathable blue by closing your eyes. Then open your eyes. You can breathe underwater now. We all can. We all did. Before time. Now let your body sink rather than float. When you reach the bottom of the ocean, let your feet find the sand, let your weight come, stand up. From here, you can walk wherever you like. Starfish and turtles are here with you now. An electric eel swims by you, arched like an S, spotted yellow and blue. Look at your hands. Can you imagine fins? Spread your fingers wide. There was a time before fingers, arms, legs. Before the landlife. There is no alone in the ocean. There is only the lifedeath of water. Thriving.

There's another story her family tells, about how swim coaches spotted her in a hotel pool, churning away all by herself. That's how she got onto a swim team. Before the ground gave and the sky began to rain metal. Anywhere there was water, she found it. A kidney-shaped hotel pool next to the supermarket, the ocean on vacations, a bombed-out apartment complex with a half-full pool, leaves and dirt and dust and who knows, maybe blood, too, but she didn't care. She'd swim anywhere. Swimming made the world go away.

Swim practice makes the swimmer feel alive. Her muscles moving her through water, the rhythm of breathing and not breathing, her heart pumping. The only people she feels close to are other swimmers. They don't need a language to understand one another. Underwater all bodies look related, making the same shapes, creating the same rhythms, moving through waves different from one another and not.

Sometimes she wishes she could swim all day and night instead of going home.

But there comes a day after which everything about the swimming pool, and what went on inside her there, is transformed. School is being canceled more and more often, for weeks at a time, but still she and her friends text one another and talk about regular things. Kids tend not to notice change; they just want to be with their friends, to be normal. But there are warnings. There have always been warnings, but on this day her mother forbids her to leave the house for school or swim practice.

That afternoon, while her shoulders ache from not swimming, a screeching comes in the sky and then a deafening quiet, and then a bomb obliterates most of the roof and one wall of the swimming pool. Two swimmers who were friends of hers are killed, their bodies limp at the surface of the water, then sinking. They never swim another lap toward their own futures.

After death comes into her life and takes the water, all she thinks about is making for the ocean.

(Excerpt from “The Pull,” Verge, Riverhead Books) view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

1. How do the characters in Verge live in-between worlds, on the edge of things, differently than other people? What’s meaningful about their in-between lives?

2. Several stories in Verge involve people trying to makes sense grief or trauma in unusual ways—often by and through the body or even parts of the body. How do the characters reimagine bodies in order to heal themselves or transcend their circumstances?

3. The short punch fragmented stories about women who are on the edge seem to be left unresolved—like a woman or women caught in the moment before something huge is about to happen—what do we learn about these women in those moments? How does the last story in the book speak back to these fragmented women on the edge?

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