The Misfit's Manifesto is a misfit—it is not the book it appears to be. Despite originating as a TED talk last year about "the beauty of being a misfit," Portland author Lidia Yuknavitch's theoretical "self-help" book contains no lifehacks, no simple takeaways and no self-congratulatory redemption narratives.
But that's because the book's project is not redemption but understanding. The Misfit's Manifesto (Simon & Schuster/TED, 145 pages, $16.99) is a series of essays about what it is to fuck up all the time and never quite belong. Nested within each essay like misshapen Matryoshka dolls are stories of mostly Portland misfits, whether transgender writer Zach Ellis or former mayoral candidate Sean Davis.
The Misfit's Manifesto arrives as a multifarious ode to grief, discomfort and the cracked-tooth smile, and to the trauma carried by the abused as a legacy that remains "alive in our actual bodies." Artist Jason Arias writes about how being brutally choked by a policeman as a "semi-brown" 12-year-old caused him later to realize he has "lived, worked and loved with an invisible necklace of cop hands around my neck for years."
Yuknavitch has written about sexual abuse by her father, miscarriage, DUIs, drugs and alcoholism. But this book is not about the sanctity of suffering. "I truly hate the 'suffering makes you stronger' narrative," Yuknavitch writes. "The truth is, suffering sucks and it can take you to a place of wanting to kill yourself, and there's nothing beautiful about that." But the book still feels redemptive through the simple act of empathy. Misfits understand each other not by being alike, but through the shared experience of not belonging.
Though Manifesto is occasionally pocked by academic bromides like "addiction may be the logic of late capitalism," the idea that animates the book is that the misfit may be more essential to life than the hero. Yuknavitch quotes the poem at the base of the statue of liberty—the one that asks for the "homeless" and "tempest-tost," and "huddled masses yearning to breathe free." In many ways the misfit's journey she describes is a story that defines our country, the waves of refugees who "started out in hell" only to arrive at a place that didn't understand them. The hope of the misfit is the hope of America, and it's not a hero's triumph. It's the refusal to surrender, the unbending will to live that defines life itself.
GO: Lidia Yuknavitch reads from The Misfit's Manifesto on Monday, Nov. 6, at Broadway Books 1714 NE Broadway, 503-284-1726, broadwaybooks.net. 7 pm. Free.