Amy Long’s debut essay collection CODEPENDENCE, reviewed by Sonya Lara

Compelling and scathingly introspective, Codependence electrifies readers’ eyes to see into the isolated, dark world that Amy Long reigns in.

Long brazenly reveals herself and boldly disregards gentle introductions, with the line “I tell my mother that I’ve started taking opioids again.” With no respite, readers are immediately immersed into all that Long is—a voice itching to be heard. Broken down into eleven sections, Long delivers her narrative to readers through combinations of numbered sequences, repurposed instruction manuals, and rewritten directions. Though seemingly formulaic, Long’s emotions and inner desires seep through the confines of the page and refuse to be ignored. With the simple line “I’m telling this one,” Long conveys her natural ability to thread together painful memories with her unnerving determination to cultivate new understanding.

Laced together with abuse—Long’s first experiences with narcotics recreationally; the emotional abuse from her on-again, off-again boyfriend David; the mental and physical abuse from being raped; the financial abuse from David’s addictions; the physical abuse from an undiagnosable and incurable pain—Codependence unapologetically balances vulnerability and strength through Long’s mastery of language. Powerful and humbling, Long transforms her echo chamber of pain into thoughts digested and bravely written on a page.

Baring all, Long exposes both the cracks and strengths in her relationships with her family, love interests, friends, health professionals, and more importantly, herself. Using old newspaper clippings about her and her sisters’ births, previous doctors’ opinions, and her own memory, Long tames the cacophony of voices attempting to pin an identity on her. Standing alone, Long removes labels such as “high-strung” and “weak” from her body as if they were name tags and watches them fall to the floor. While family members, friends, and health professionals offer to help with their medical, professional, or personal opinions, the magnitude of Long’s ongoing pain prevents a complete understanding by others. Trapped inside a body that continually produces life-altering pain, Long forces readers to question what they themselves would do in her position and what relationships of theirs would strain under the weight of suffering.

Comparing herself to the Velveteen Rabbit, Long questions her ability to become “real” or loved due to her painful condition. Said by the Skin Horse in The Velveteen Rabbit, becoming real “doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept” (Williams). Reflecting on her own pain and the steps that must be completed in order to get through a day, Long wonders whether she will ever achieve the “loved” status when “most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby” (Williams). Though readers cannot identify exactly with Long, the universal longing to be loved allows readers to understand Long’s anxiety and reflect upon their own.

While “Pharmacies of New York” have readers’ feet aching and throats dry from internal screaming, Long dilutes readers’ unease with quick, witty lines of pure humor. Beautifully placed, lines such as “‘Sixth Grade is the Pits’” in “Comedown” surprise readers into hearing their laughter and gently break leftover heaviness. Long reminds readers again and again through short and simple moments that there is more to her, and Codependence, than pain—there’s life.

Resilient and explosive, Long invites readers to listen with little to no expectations. Never flinching, Long supplies readers with the tools and courage to self-reflect and express themselves.

With prescription names, uses, side effects, and drug interactions, Long’s pill bottles ultimately melt into the shape of her ever-agonizing body, a syrup of intertwined knowledge and experience easily downed with lyrical and raw writing. Striking at the face of addiction and pain management, Long exposes the hidden voice of unforgiving desire and the bones that carry her. Breathtakingly vivid, readers are left to question pain’s turmoil on a soul.

Codependence, by Amy Long. Cleveland, Ohio: CSU Poetry Center, September 2019. 208 pages. $16.00, paper.

Sonya Lara served as the Associate Fiction Editor for The Madison Review at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she received her BA in English-Creative Writing. Currently, she is the Co-Founder, Poetry Editor, and Social Media Manager for Rare Byrd Review, an Editor-at-Large for Cleaver Magazine, the Managing Editor for the minnesota review, and an MFA poetry candidate at Virginia Tech. Her work has appeared in Prairie Voices, Wisconsin’s Best Emerging Poets: An Anthology, and Trestle Ties.

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