Review and Giveaway: Circadian by Chelsey Clammer

Thursday, October 12, 2017
Review by Angela Mackintosh

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Chelsey Clammer’s work. She’s a columnist and writing instructor at WOW, and you better believe I checked out her credentials and work thoroughly before she came aboard. I read her essays and her first book, BodyHome, and fell in love with her prose and her brain. She’s been through a lot and isn’t afraid to share her experiences with the world. I admire her fearless, vulnerable, self-reflective, brilliant writing. She’s also very funny, and manages to give the reader a break and a laugh while she plunges into dark subjects. So when I heard Circadian was publishing in October—and it feels like I heard about it forever ago (Don’t you just love the snail-like pace of traditional publishing?)—I preordered a couple copies. One of those copies, I’m giving away to a lucky reader! Just enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below. But first, I’d like to share my impressions of Circadian.

I don’t think I’ve ever read an essay collection that affected me this deeply and emotionally. Winner of the 2015 Red Hen Press Nonfiction Award, Circadian is a masterfully written collection of 12 lyric essays that are poetic, bold in subject matter, and razor sharp in wit and language. Chelsey uses different frames and structures to analyze her relationship with her father, his alcoholism, and ultimately, his suicide, which is still up for debate, but I think a 0.46 blood-alcohol level qualifies as suicide (which is 5.75 times the legal limit of 0.08). In “Outline for Change,” she uses numerology, geometry, and biology to logistically solve the problem of understanding an alcoholic father. I would say the crux of this essay collection, to me, anyway, is about finding acceptance with his suicide and their relationship. As a writer and a survivor of a family member who committed suicide, I strive for this kind of depth in my writing, and it brought me to tears a few times.

Writers will delight and completely relate to her essay, “I Could Title This Wavering,” where she shares her lack of self-confidence as a writer and examines the absurdities of the English language—wound and wound (as in: injury to the body vs. past tense of winding a clock), wind and wind (as in: wind a clock vs. moving air)—and shares one of her favorite things to do: verb a noun (as in: “No one ever told me you can’t verb a noun, that you can’t Chelsey a sentence.”) But this essay in all its literary debate and linguistic myths really has a secret message: it’s about a time when Chelsey fainted at the post office because of her eating disorder. And that’s what makes these essays a genius work of art—the form, twist, and introspection of her words, without making it all about her, and broadening the context. I’ve taken her classes before, and I think she calls this approach a sideswipe—where you explore ideas in a different way to see what more they have to say, rather than head on.

All twelve of the essays are standouts, and I don’t want to reveal all of them, so I’ll pick a couple more. “Mother Tongue” is an essay every woman writer will fall in love with; it analyzes women’s oppression through the lexicon—names like “Lazy Susan” and “wife beater” and “Debbie Downer,” and phrases like “Throws like a girl” and “Cries like a bitch,” and lexicon points! Which is a game that Chelsey and her friend made up where they get points for coming up with a new word that is as witty as it is perfect for the situation it describes. Example: “Hippies living in Texas? Those dreadnecks!” (Lexicon point!) It’s hilarious. This essay is the perfect example of taking a serious issue and having fun while getting to the root of the problem.

“Then She Flew Away” is personally one of my favorite essays of all time because it’s about a girl Chelsey befriends while working in a transitional residency for homeless youth with drug addiction and mental health issues. The teen, Sophie, was suicidal, and one night she got drunk and climbed up a building to commit suicide, changed her mind, but ended up falling off the building. Chelsey struggles to understand what happened to Sophie by recounting their time together—including one trip where Chelsey took her and three other youth to the mountains for a writing retreat—and analyzing Sophie’s journal. This essay and others in the collection provide different perspectives and an honest look at suicide and mental illness that I really appreciated.

I will pick only one more because I want you to have some surprises when you read this! In “Trigger Happy,” Chelsey interviews a fellow survivor of sexual violence, Lacy Johnson, and author of The Other Side, about whether books, college texts, and other material should include trigger warnings. “Who should be responsible for warning you of your uncertainties?” It’s something that writers need to think about. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across an Amazon review where the reviewer says something like, “I really wish the author would’ve put a trigger warning on this,” or “If you have issues with _________, beware, this is a trigger warning!” Can you really put a trigger warning on the world? The most revealing part is where Chelsey starts out with “Funny story” and that story is anything but funny. She tells the story of how she was sexually assaulted, and how that moment changed her life for the next six years (or more). Ultimately, the message is, “Push harder to think critically about your discomfort.”

And thinking critically about her discomfort by writing about difficult subjects with heart is what Chelsey does successfully in these masterful, innovative, and truly moving essays. Highly recommended, Circadian gets five stars and then some from me.

About the author:

Chelsey Clammer is the author of BodyHome and Circadian, which was the winner of the 2015 Red Hen Press Nonfiction Manuscript Award. Her work has appeared in The Normal School, Black Warrior Review, The Rumpus, McSweeney’s, Hobart, Essay Daily, and The Water~Stone Review, among more than one hundred other publications. She is the Essays Editor for The Nervous Breakdown, a reader for Creative Nonfiction magazine, and an online creative writing instructor and columnist for WOW! Women On Writing. Chelsey received her MFA in Creative Writing from Rainier Writing Workshop. She lives in Austin, TX. Visit her website at


Enter to win a copy of the award-winning essay collection, Circadian by Chelsey Clammer by filling out the Rafflecopter form below. We will choose a lucky winner a week from now, next Thursday, October 19th. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Marcia Peterson said...

Congratulations to Chelsey on the new book. What a great review, Angela--you have piqued my interest! I know how great Chelsey is anyway and I wish I were eligible to win. ;)

Angela Mackintosh said...

Thanks, Marcia! WOW staff is allowed to enter the contest. You should enter. :)

Margo Dill said...

Congrats, Chelsea! I think this is so exciting and I can't wait to read your book!

Anonymous said...

It would be nice to have this analysis done on myself. Great concept.

Doug said...

we have a famous author that lives not far from me here in Portland-- Ursula K. Le Guin

Mary Horner said...

Sounds like something I would really enjoy. Can't wait to read it.

Gladys Strickland said...

Sounds like something I would enjoy - looking forward to reading it.

Buddy Garrett said...

It sounds like an interesting read.

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