Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Defining Moment on the LA Metro, And A Life

Review: One Day On The Gold Line
Michael Sedano

As I read One Day On The Gold Line my first response was “please, Carla Rachel Sameth, let this be fiction, despite you call it memoir.” 

I found myself devouring pages in big gulps, reading faster and faster, my eyes searching for a name to read an outcome, looking for a phrase to wrap up an incident. 

Trauma, misery, health pound on a reader’s heart and soul, all the harder because Sameth gives little succor to just about everyone in the book.

I held on to the Author’s Note, “The names of some people and places have been changed” because, in part, you can’t ignore shit like this. Broken people damaged people good people regular people going through crap like you go through, too. Mental illness, drugs, serial monogamy—lots of it, birth, motherhood, money; everyone’s got troubles. And that’s why it’s useful that One Day On The Gold Line  isn’t fiction, it’s autobiography. You can hold it at a distance that way.

Fiction compels Identification, allowing rhetoric to carry readers into the scene and become the actor. Autobiography happens to one particular individual. These are Carla’s problems. Carla has to resolve them. And these are life-changing events in the life of a woman. Sameth’s skillful management of the materials of memory creates arresting, stomach-churning recreations of intensely horrible experiences like scenes from her marriage to Lizette.

The money kept flowing out, the house was all torn up, and things in our family, along with the remodel, were going south – as Lizette also began to fall apart. When she wasn't silent, withdrawn, and in that state of depression, she was sullen, angry, explosive.
. . . .
on her way down she saw the writing on Raphael’s door. Lizette seemed to fly into the air like the Wicked Witch of the West, ripping the paper with Rafael’s crooked lettering off his door and screaming. We weren’t sure what she was saying. She seemed to be accusing my 11 year old son of being an “exploitative misogynist.” Rafael was whimpering, “I didn’t mean anything wrong please, please!”

Carla Sameth is a major league risk-taker and she proves it through intimacy with her reader. Details of relationships are shocking for their vehemence and tragic consequences. Sameth puts together her narrative like a reporter, I did this I did that, leaving it to readers to decide if she… don’t blame.

Autobiography, particularly one this honest, is kin to fiction’s Identification. Through Edification and Instruction, Sameth allows a reader to find parallels in their own love life, parenting, cooking, problem-solving, choices of ice cream. In short, it’s what Kenneth Burke termed “Literature as equipment for living.”

Carla Rachel Sameth doesn’t have a kid named Rafael. This is creative non-fiction of the highest caliber. Writers should flock to these pages to observe how Sameth plants ideas, spins them around, pulls them out thirty pages and two stories later. I particularly enjoy the writer’s use of humor.

For example in the television programs story, Sameth names it “The Year of Eating Banana Splits,” the humor of a woman eating herself fat watching prime time teevee, offers an essay on body shape, culture, health, satisfaction:

My face at fifty-one had definitely benefited from the extra pounds, which is what they say about women. But they also say that large stomach and extra weight can lead to health problems and an earlier death. They certainly led to a change in jeans size and to inability to wear tight clothes without looking like an obscene caricature of a pregnant fifty–one–year–old.

Image: https://www.pasadenaweekly.com/2012/08/30/one-day-on-the-gold-line/
The title essay will simply piss me off to tell you about it. Some self-important person wearing a badge and a gun smashed the author’s face into an I-beam, the deputy sheriff suspicious Carla was a fare scofflaw. You see, now I’m boiling again.

These twenty-nine stories track the author’s life through love affairs, marriages, jobs, schools, her children’s troubles, a mother’s suffering. Sameth characterizes these as her “truest truth” and lays her heart bare for readers to pick events that ring sadly true in their own existence and see how this person handled her loss. Her losses. Lose a girlfriend. Lose a wife. Lose a baby. Lose a husband. Move on.

Loss. That’s really what One Day On The Gold Line is going to show you. Experience the loss, examine it, learn from it or not, move on. There’s always the next story.

A Life On The Gold Line is available in July.(Link here)


Daniel Cano said...

Michael, a really cool review that makes me want to pick up the book ASAP and read it. You do raise some provocative questions in your statements. Is there really such a thing as creative nonfiction. To me, the term has always sounded like an oxymoron. Nonfiction denotes the action occurred and the people existed, not as characters but as real people, as best the writer remembers, researched, or observed. I believe Truman Capote, Hunter Thompson, even Norman Mailer and Joan Didion might be the latter day prophets of creative nonfiction, which means, what they wrote might not always adhere to what actually occurred. In Cold Blood was true enough, a family in Kansas slaughtered by two ex-cons looking for a big score, which the family never had. But many of the story's details couldn't be verified. So, does creative nonfiction depend on the percentage of truth vs. fantasy in a story? In movies, we're told up front "Based on a true story" or the more creative "Inspired by a True Story," otherwise the film is a documentary (hence nonfiction). Isn't nonfiction in literature the brother/sister of a documentary in film? Thanks for raising the issue.

Carla Sameth said...


Thank you for your comments; please do go buy it! And yes, this is correct in my book (my actual book and in my opinion) that "Nonfiction denotes the action occurred and the people existed, not as (fictional) characters but as real people, as best the writer remembers, researched, or observed." (I added the "fictional" part to your quote.)