Mary Ruefle

The Most of It

Wave Books

reviewed by Ben Mirov

The Most of It by Wave Books is Mary Ruefle's first book of prose. Many of the pieces in The Most of It are similar to the work of Lydia Davis, especially the measured insubstantiality of Almost No Memory. Others are very similar to the Swiss writer Robert Walser in the way they value ephemerality, controlled discursiveness, and imaginative bursts. However, The Most of It is a singular book full of pathos. Take for example this section from "A Glass of Water" in which a thirsty woman cannot open her refrigerator because she is afraid of its light:

"(...) I entertained the very reasonable idea of waiting until the source of the light - the lightbulb - burned itself out, as was inevitable, though how this could happen if I didn't open the door once in all those years was a problem, compounded by the very real possibility of my dying of thirst while I waited(...)"

After reading "A Glass of Water" I feel sad that the narrator probably dies without accepting that she could get a glass of water in the bathroom or the kitchen sink. In most kitchens, the sink is located within close proximity to the refrigerator. One can imagine the narrator standing in her kitchen, very thirsty, but unaware that another, alternative source of water is available just behind her and to the left. Many of the pieces in The Most of It contain characters in similar situations. One of Ruefle's talents as a writer is to engender empathy and humor from these situations. Pieces such as "The Taking of Moundville by Zoom" achieve this tenuous effect within the span of a few sentences:

"If you were very, very small, smaller than a leprechaun, smaller than a gnome or a fairy, and you lived in a vagina, every time a penis came in there would be a natural disaster. Your dishes would fall out of the cupboards and break and the furniture slide all the way to the other side of the room. I would take a long time to clean up afterwards."

One cannot read "The Taking of Moundville by Zoom" without feeling sympathetic for gnomes and or fairies currently living in vaginas. I was in an earthquake once, too. It was a medium sized earthquake and I was afraid, but nothing was broken. I imagine a giant penis coming into my apartment would be similar to a medium to very large earthquake and would break many of my possessions.

Ruefle's unique humor runs throughout The Most of It, and ties the collection together, but there are many other nuances that make the book enjoyable.

Despite having published ten books of poetry, Ruefle has cultivated a style that is resolutely idiosyncratic and outsiderish without seeming bitter or alienated.