If This Were Fiction

A Love Story in Essays

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Pub Date 01 Sep 2022 | Archive Date 31 Aug 2022

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If This Were Fiction is a love story—for Jill Christman’s long-ago fiancé, who died young in a car accident; for her children; for her husband, Mark; and ultimately, for herself. In this collection, Christman takes on the wide range of situations and landscapes she encountered on her journey from wild child through wounded teen to mother, teacher, writer, and wife. In these pages there are fatal accidents and miraculous births; a grief pilgrimage that takes Christman to jungles, volcanoes, and caves in Central America; and meditations on everything from sexual trauma and the more benign accidents of childhood to gun violence, indoor cycling, unlikely romance, and even a ghost or two.

Playing like a lively mixtape in both subject and style, If This Were Fiction focuses an open-hearted, frequently funny, clear-eyed feminist lens on Christman’s first fifty years and sends out a message of love, power, and hope.
If This Were Fiction is a love story—for Jill Christman’s long-ago fiancé, who died young in a car accident; for her children; for her husband, Mark; and ultimately, for herself. In this collection...

Advance Praise

“Reading these essays is like hanging out with a true friend, someone who isn’t afraid to be real. Jill Christman writes about love, loss, trauma, fear, parenthood, and the strange wonder of our past and former selves with deep understanding, humor, and so much beauty.”—Beth (Bich Minh) Nguyen, author of Stealing Buddha’s Dinner

If This Were Fiction is the collection I wish I had the talent and skill to write. Christman’s words shine with unusual beauty and hard-earned brilliance.”—Ashley C. Ford, author of Somebody’s Daughter

“What is more complex than love, marriage, motherhood, and family? Probably nothing, but Jill Christman takes the deep dive, with intelligent, intense, intimate essays that will catch you off guard and leave you wanting more. If This Were Fiction is a piercing book by a brilliant, gutsy writer.”—Dinty W. Moore, author of To Hell with It

“Engaging and distinctive. Christman brings intelligence, wit, and insightful honesty to her personal experiences with motherhood, womanhood, and girlhood, to abuse and its legacies, to the search for joy, creative expression, and love. Moving, beautifully written, and often quite funny.”—Megan Harlan, author of Mobile Home: A Memoir in Essays

“Reading these essays is like hanging out with a true friend, someone who isn’t afraid to be real. Jill Christman writes about love, loss, trauma, fear, parenthood, and the strange wonder of our past...

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ISBN 9781496232359
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Featured Reviews

Thank you NetGalley and University of Nebraska for the eARC! This will be my first book by this author and I’m excited to get to it as I’m a lover of both short story/essay collections & non-fiction memoirs. Full review coming soon and will be posted on all my standard platforms.

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In this collection of essays, most previously published in literary journals, Jill Christman weaves together the story of her life in honest, beautiful prose. I love the genre of personal essays because they are slices of life that I can both relate to and be entertained by, and I come away feeling like I’ve made a friend.

This collection, divided into three parts, carries Christman’s stories with themes of grief, sexual abuse, motherhood, trauma and love tying them together. We are all, inevitably, products of our experiences, while what we make of them determines how we live. Christman explores her past with deft precision, humor and unique expression. She elevates the profane and gives words to those aching parts inside that too often are stuffed away and unexplored.

In “Going Back to Plum Island,” she travels with a friend to her childhood home off the northeast coast of Massachusetts to confront the memory of the man (and maybe the man himself) who lived next door and sexually abused her from age 6 or 7 to age 12. Though she had done much to heal from this experience, she believed she needed to return in order to put to rest the recurring dreams she was having of him coming back for her, or sometimes, her daughter, who was 9 at the time. This trip plunged her not only back into her nightmare past but immersed her in memories in the way only returning home can. She remembered the good parts as well, and she took those back with her. Because of her bravery, her nightmares then turned into a dream of flying, “I felt completely free and unburdened in a way I never had–not even in dreams.” Home with her own children, she shared the Swedish fish she’d brought back and thought of how she wanted their lives to be, as mothers so often do. “I want [them] to know that it’s okay to tell the truth, to name names and make noise, no matter what. I want them to lay down shame and be brave. I want them to be willing to go back when they know there is something they need to see or set free or reclaim…to remember that the way is forward.”

Her stories on motherhood are authentic and humorous, expressing the universal love and concerns that mothers feel, along with the humor necessary to retain your sanity. In “Googly Eyes” she describes taking her almost three-year-old to urgent care after realizing she’d taken the plastic googly eyes they used for an art project and stuck one up her nose. Once at home, she tries to excavate her daughter’s motive from her, and she simply says, “I thought it would be different.” Christman goes on to muse, “Yes, that’s it! Ella’s assessment explained a lifetime of my own biggest mistakes. I thought it would be different.” So much truth.

She also has a knack for calling out the unjust and shining light on the heart of the matter. In “The Baby and the Alligator,” she observes, “I get that if feels better to imagine that all the bad things happen for a reason, and we are as individuals too smart/ rich/ wily/ modest /white /straight /church-going /sign-reading to get shot or raped or robbed or siezed by a wild animal and eaten /crushed /drowned. Empathy is the antidote to judgment, but we are a people who love to point fingers and draw boxes. That terrible thing? That will happen over there…to someone who didn’t follow the rules.” She challenges the widely held belief that tragedy happens because someone deserves it, and has had to reject this same belief when she put it on herself.

Whether she is discussing losing her fiance in a car accident at age 20, traveling to Costa Rica in search of healing or disclosing why her fears spring from past trauma, Christman conveys the beautiful and the aching with perfect integrity. In “The Avocado,” her description of said object is deft and coated in her own loneliness and ache. “A gradation of shade from buttercream near the nut-brown pit to deep-shade-in-the-forest green at the perimeter where flesh meets frame. In one hemisphere, the clinging brown pit glowed gold, a cross-sectioned woman, heavy with child. On the other side, a hollow vacancy, a curvature where something vital had been but was now gone.”

It has been a long time since I’ve laughed, cried, nodded my head and felt a deep welling of empathy from the words of such a gifted writer. Thank you, Jill and thank you to Netgalley and University of Nebraska Press for a chance to read and review this amazing collection in exchange for my honest review.


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A lively and interesting essay collection which ranges in time, place and character in remarkable ways. I admired the level of detail as well as the complexity of the stories that were told here.

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