I can’t really explain it, but You Feel It Just Below the Ribs is a near five star book. I rated it 4.5 stars on Storygraph and I’m not quite sure why I didn’t rate it a 5. I want to… there’s something… but I want to. But I won’t. Because there’s something on the tip of my tongue or on the cusp of catchable thoughts that maybe I can’t articulate. Or maybe I’m just that much of a hard ass.
There are a few things that you absolutely don’t need to know in order to read this book:
- I didn’t know – so you probably don’t need to know either but I know now and I’ve decided to share it: This book takes place in the same universe as the podcast Within the Wires which is written by the authors of this book as well. I don’t listen to Within the Wires, but I know it’s a thing that exists because…
- Jeffrey Cranor, one of the authors of You Feel It and Within the Wires is a co-creator and co-writer of Welcome to Night Vale of which I am a die-hard (what is “die-hard” anyway) fan
However, I didn’t pick this up because of Cranor. I picked it up because I had read the synopsis however long ago it was first announced and added it to my TBR, promptly forgotten about it, then saw it listed as a ‘best book of something or other” not too long ago, then told myself, “Geez, I should probably buy this book because, well, I need to support Jeffrey Cranor more.” In truth, I don’t think I connected this book to Night Vale at all until maybe then, when I went to revisit it because I saw it on my TBR after that best of list or whatever where I saw it listed. That was maybe a month ago. I just needed something to read.
Whew. It’s always a tangent with me.
It had me at hello. For no other reason than it’s honestly great.
The long and the short of it: You Feel it Just Below the Ribs is an epistolary fiction that’s told within the frame of a found object. Kind of like House of Leaves except that it feels like less homework to get a passing grade. If you’ve read House of Leaves you might know a little bit what I mean by that. There’s metatexual elements here. There are the frame prologue, interlude, and epilogue that contextualize the memoir or, really, letter-of-sort that make up the main text of the novel. It’s a dystopian fiction and it’s also alternate history. It’s probably the first native review of mine on Storygraph that I selected “It’s Complicated” as the response to practically ever question that they ask for which it’s an option. I’m sure I’m not alone in that.
It’s hard to express the pace of this novel. Honestly. Truly. It moved quickly, but not too quickly. At one point I realized I was nearing the end of the book as in I had very few pages left and I couldn’t believe it. There’s so much left I don’t know. So much to be said. So much that’s unclear or so much that could be made more clear. Has anything even happened in the last 300-some-odd pages? The way it’s written – rather, the way we, the readers, are getting this story told to us is from a future remove. It’s memory. It’s storytelling over the course of a live lived during and after “the apocalypse,” or – more precisely – an apocalypse, I guess. I didn’t know what to expect and I think that worked to my favor reading because I don’t think there’s anything to expect at all. There’s the life of Miriam, our narrator and confessor… She’s confessing. She doesn’t want forgiveness or consolation or redemption or any of that. She just wants people to know what she’s done. She just wants the truth to be told, even if it goes nowhere but to you – whoever her Dear Reader is. (Kind of like me writing these posts on Cannonball Read if I’m being honest. Maybe she just needed the Internet and WordPress. Who knows.)
The novel follows her life from childhood through her survival and then to her career in a kind of psychological study and experimentation that she developed in her childhood for survival. It’s less what happens and more how it’s told. Fair to say that’s probably what I like most about it. It feels like nothing happens because, Dear Reader, most of the time nothing is happening meanwhile the whole world is moving and incalculable things are happening all at once. There’s some intrigue throughout the novel, particularly at the end. The question lingers – never stated but you create this question in your mind so it persists even if it’s never been asked: What did Miriam do? What is her great crime?
Asking any of those questions or waiting for those answers is to miss the forest for the trees. It doesn’t matter, really. Nothing happens while everything happens. Everything happening doesn’t matter. As Miriam reminds us again and again: Irrelevant. There is another storytelling in the novel, though: the publisher. The publisher that provides the frame. That gives Miriam’s writing – her manuscript, letter, diary, confession, whatever you want to call it – context. The frame and the footnotes tell another story. You’re never alone with Miriam and you’re never allowed to forget it for long.
I did a fair amount of underlining throughout the pages which lines up perfectly with my expectations of anything written by either of the Night Vale creators. They, put simply, write beautifully and precisely, both cynically and idealistically, in perfectly logical and emotionally poignant ways. The last thing I underlined, perhaps, is the perfect coda for this post.
Like the author, we have not managed to put together a compelling theory as to why she wrote this manuscript.
I take it back, it’s a five star read.