Crane Wife : A Memoir in Essays
by Hauser, C. J.

"CJ Hauser expands on her viral essay sensation, "The Crane Wife," in a brilliant collection of essays that echo the work of Cheryl Strayed in their revelatory observations of romantic love. CJ Hauser uses her now-beloved title essay as an anchor around which to explore the narratives of romantic love we are taught and which we tell ourselves, and the need to often rewrite those narratives to find an accurate version of ourselves in them. Told with a late-night barstool directness, through the sort of giddy confidences that usually pass between friends, Hauser relates, in dark and often funny ways, the pain of feeling out of sync with the world when you're going through the motions of a life story that doesn't match your reality. With unlikely guides from Katharine Hepburn to Defense Department robots to whooping cranes to golden era SNL comedians to Special Agent Dana Scully, Hauser grapples with the art she loves to mine new understanding of what these sorts of narratives might have to offer as a way forward. These essays follow Hauser as she dismantles the narrative expectations she carried inside her, letting go of the roles she performed to make others comfortable, and seeking joy by tending relationships with community and chosen family-love stories in their own right. The essays capture the daily work of trying, if sometimes failing, to architect a new sort of life story, a new sort of family, a sort of home, to live in. The Crane Wife and Other Essays asks what more inclusive storytelling about family and love and growth might offer us all. A book for anyone who's ever been in love with love, anyone whose life doesn't look the way they thought it would, and anyone who ever wondered: am I doing this right?"-

CJ HAUSER teaches creative writing at Colgate University. She is the author of two novels, Family of Origin and The From-Aways. In 2019 she published "The Crane Wife" in The Paris Review, which reached more than a million readers all over the world. This is her first work of nonfiction.  

Novelist Hauser (Family of Origin, 2019) drops the veil of fiction to tell true tales of family and her own evolution in this staccato, funny, barbed, metaphor-laced, and thought-provoking memoir-in-essays. She brings forth a murderous great-grandfather and an accomplished radio and news executive grandfather, recounts her struggles with the full spectrum of her sexuality and her feelings about her body, tells hilarious tales of her fascination with robots and her online-dating misadventures, investigates visions of the ideal home, and dissects the heart-wrenching demise of an engagement (in the title essay hooked to her participation in a whooping-crane field study) and other close relationships. A threshing critic, Hauser shares her changing perceptions of her favorite movie since age 13, The Philadelphia Story; reveals the depth of her obsession with The X-Files, and takes us down the old Yellow Brick Road on a journey through L. Frank Baum's Oz books, racism, the American Dream, wizardry, and the concealing of "inconvenient truths." No matter her focus, Hauser's deductions about human nature are always arresting, delving, fresh, and exhilarating. Copyright 2022 Booklist Reviews.

A novelist examines her troubled romantic relationships through a cultural lens. "I am a kind of breakup pro," Hauser writes late in this lively, thoughtful, and often funny set of personal essays-at a point when the reader has learned much about how unlucky in love she's been. For the author, exes aren't so much opportunities to disclose intimacies (though she does) or criticize clichéd relationship roles (that too), but to better understand herself and her decisions. In the potent title essay, which went viral when it was published online in 2019, the author describes calling off her wedding, going on a nature research trip, and reckoning with her ex's infidelities and how easily she endured them. There and throughout the book, Hauser is working through how cultural norms metamorphize and oversimplify messy emotions. She often does this by bouncing her experiences off books, TV, and movies: She finds echoes of her own life in The Philadelphia Story, Daphne du Maurier's classic gothic romance novel, Rebecca, and The X-Files, "a show about how a person can become disoriented in their relationship to the truth." Hauser's choices in metaphors for busted relationships sometimes feel strained, as if she's determined to make everything grist for the confessional mill-e.g., a trip to John Belushi's gravesite or attending an exhibition of first-responder robots. However, even when she overreaches, she makes a welcome effort to talk about both love and culture in unconventional ways. That approach is strongest and most effective in "Uncoupling," an essay about her uncertainty about pursuing breast-reduction surgery and about how much of her identity, for better and for worse, has been connected to ideas about woman and motherhood. It's candid, funny, and revealing of how much of our sense of self is woven around our (mis)conceptions about our bodies. A smart, inviting, and candid clutch of self-assessments. Copyright Kirkus 2022 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.



twenty-­seven love stories


i | put your boots on, 1918



ap Joyce was a cowboy who ran an Arizona dude ranch called the Spur Cross because acting like a cowboy, for tourists, was more lucrative than the actual herding of cattle. He had a trick horse named Patches that could bow, roll over, and nod the answers to math questions. Sometimes Cap stood on Patches's back and played guitar. Then the Great War came. He sold Patches and left his wife in charge of the ranch and went off to fight in France, where he was mustard-­gassed, but survived, and was heavily be-­medaled for the trouble. He was my great-­ grandfather.


Cap had been home a week when the ranch hands took him aside and said that his wife had been carrying on with the foreman. They wouldn't have mentioned it, the ranch hands said, except they didn't seem to be stopping.


Cap said, "Where is he?"


Cap went to the bunks. The foreman was dressing.


"You fuck my wife?" Cap said.


The man froze. "Yes," he said.


Cap said, "Put your boots on."


The foreman put on his boots.


Cap shot him dead. He did not bleed much, they say.


ii | nion maid, 1984


My first kiss was a communist. His name was Jack. He was part of a kids' playgroup in New York City. All the mothers were part of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union except for mine. Her involvement remains a mystery.


In the playgroup, the babies crawled over the carpet and the mothers shared pots of coffee and by and large the babies were naked and if they were not naked they were wearing overalls. Good communist babies wear overalls.


Here are some of the things that I wore: a tiny pair of lederhosen (Germany), a real silk kimono with a red bird stitched on the breast (Japan), a rabbit-­fur coat with wood fasteners (Russia). My grandparents had been traveling and always sent me, the first grandchild, souvenirs.


There is a picture of this first kiss. Jack, in overalls, is on hands and knees, long black hair in ringlets. I am practically bald, bending toward him, hands planted on the rug. I am wearing a pink velveteen jacket (Paris).


A week later the union ladies said: "You can't keep coming if you dress her like that." The week after, my mother brought me to the group in the rabbit-­fur coat, not thinking the union ladies were serious. They were.


iii | he land office, 1921


When Cap got out of prison he went to the land office with a mind to start a new ranch in Wyoming. There was a woman at the front desk, a secretary. Her name was Robbie Baker.


"Can I help you?" she said.


"I'm going to marry you," Cap said. "And I need some land."


That was my great-­grandmother.


iv | eesting, 1989


Brian Katrumbus could run faster than any boy in kindergarten and had hair like corn silk. It was Valentine's Day. A week earlier, when I'd been stung by a bee while daydreaming out the window and then cried quietly, not knowing what to do, it was Brian Katrumbus who told the teacher that something was wrong with me. He poked the teacher and said, "Something is wrong with her."


I'd picked out a very special valentine for Brian Katrumbus. I wore a Band-­Aid over my small wound the day I watched him open his envelopes, waiting to see how he would receive my card. But Brian Katrumbus had a system. He ripped open each envelope, and then shook it, so whatever candy was inside tumbled out onto his carpet square.


Then he tossed the valentine away. Like shucking peas.


v | rades, 1932


Cap and Robbie married. They spent the Depression living out of a car with their two sons. One of these sons was my grandfather Eddie. Cap drove across the country, trading with native people. He offered ad space for their "trading posts" in his "wild west" magazine in exchange for the tourist-­intended crafts-­headdresses, bows, and beads. Cap later sold these crafts, or traded them for food. Fake "Indian" crafts. Fake "cowboy" magazines.


"What did Robbie think about all this?" I ask. "Where is the woman in this story?"


"Robbie stuck with him the whole time," my family says.


A job came through for Cap, in New York.


Cap hated the city, the job. He drank.


(This is a family tradition that filters through the generations. We hate things, so we drink. We love things, so we drink. We have bad luck, so we drink. We fear good luck, so we drink. It has to do with a kind of sadness that is blood-­born. My mother keeps a scrap of paper taped to her diary, a quote from Yeats that reads: "Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy," and the first time I read that line it hummed over my mind like a diviner's stick.)


Cap almost landed a role in a cowboy movie, but was beat out for the part by Tom Mix.


Cap was disappointed. He drank.


"But about Robbie," I say. "Did she want Cap to be an actor?"


"Still, Robbie stuck," my family says.


I want to learn from what went wrong in the past but sometimes it seems everything worth knowing has been redacted. As if ignorance is the only thing that allows each successive generation to tumble into love, however briefly, and spawn the next.


vi | ll cacti are succulents but not all succulents are cacti, 1994


My parents go on vacation to Arizona. They bring back souvenir cacti for my sister, Leslie, and me. Little furry stumps, potted in gravel.


Within a month, both our cacti are dead.


My sister's cactus is desiccated and shrunken. Dead of thirst.


Mine is slumped over, rotten through. I have overwatered and flooded the roots.


Our parents exchange a look. As if they know already that love will not be easy for us. That we are differently but equally screwed.


vii | s sure as these stones, 1948


My grandparents met in the theater.


Cap failed to become an actor, but years later his teenage son, my grandfather Eddie, would play the role of "crippled boy healed by a miracle" in a play at the Blackfriars Guild. Maureen Jarry was the props mistress. She was older than he was. We still don't know by how much. She refuses to say. Eddie lied about his age, of course. He told her he was twenty. Maureen told him to buzz off. At the time she was dating the lead actor-­older, and quite successful.


My grandfather has always been a persistent son of a bitch.


He worked on my grandmother for weeks.




Then this happened:


One of the props for the play was a handful of gravel Maureen gathered from the empty lot behind the theater each night. In the final scene of the play the lead actor's character held out the gravel and said, "As sure as these stones do fall to the ground, I heal thee," and he would turn over his hand and the stones would fall and by this miracle my grandfather's character could walk again. But one winter night, my grandmother gathered what she thought was gravel from the back lot but was actually, as my grandfather enthusiastically describes it, "frozen dog turds."


And so, hours later, when the older actor spoke his line and turned his hand over, no stones fell, and he found himself instead with a handful of recently thawed dog shit.


"I am healed!" my grandfather called out, all the same. He danced around the stage without his crutches. "Oh, I am healed!"


viii | orn syrup, 1997


My middle school put on Macbeth. Danny played the second murderer.


The second murderer was my first proper kiss. 


I was the director's assistant and liked skulking backstage in all black and carrying a clipboard. It was opening night. Danny ran offstage after killing Banquo. He found me in the dark, and we whispered. It had gone well. He was triumphant. He was covered in red corn-­syrup blood.


"I want to hug you, but-­" he said.


"Hug me," I said.


Then I was covered in fake blood. This is what love is like.


My best friend started dating his best friend and we would all talk on the phone at night. It was an elaborate process, getting all four of us on the line, and once we did, we were often confused about who was who.

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