Revertigo: An Off-Kilter Memoir
University of Wisconsin Press, Cloth, 2014, 213 pp
Revertigo: An Off-Kilter Memoir was a finalist for the 2015 Oregon Book Award in Creative Nonfiction.
From the Publisher:
At the center of Revertigo: An Off-Kilter Memoir is a 138-day attack of unrelenting vertigo that began - out of nowhere - on the morning of March 27, 2009, and ended on the evening of August 12, 2009, as suddenly as it had begun. As he wrote about it, three-time Pushcart Prize winner and PEN USA Literary Award recipient Floyd Skloot realized it would make no sense - or rather that it would seem to make too much apparent sense - to tell the story in a traditionally-structured, conventional memoir. With body and world askew, everything familiar was transformed and nothing was ever still. To capture what it felt like to be unceasingly vertiginous required a matching off-kilterness of form, a structure that was tenuous, shifting, unpredictable.
He also realized that, for the previous three years, he'd already been writing this book, had been exploring balance and its loss, how the forces of uncertainty and sudden change and displacement had shaped him since childhood, as it shapes many of us, by repeatedly knocking him awry, requiring him to react and adapt fast, realigning his hopes and plans, even his perceptions. It seemed as though his life, and his writing about his life, had been preparing him for just such a time of radical off-kilterness. The resulting memoir follows a loose chronological sequence from adolescence to the onset of senior citizenship. From the volatile forces within his mercurial, eruptive, shape-shifting early years to his obsession with reading and acting and writing, and from the attack of vertigo to a trio of tenuous, post-vertigo-but-dizzying journeys to real places, Spain and England, and to a place only known in his mother's unhinged fantasies, Skloot makes sense of a life's phantasmagoric unpredictability.
Quotes from reviews of the book:
"Luckily for readers, when Floyd Skloot had vertigo he wrote about it. In Revertigo: An Off-Kilter Memoir, Skloot, author of many books of creative nonfiction, poetry, and nonfiction, reexamines his entire life through an ordeal most people would rather forget. . . . His essays weave smoothly through pivotal episodes in his life as a son, father, reader, writer, husband, and patient. Skloot's parents' volatile marriage, his father's premature death, his deep love for his wife, Beverly (whom Skloot calls his “spirit level”), his pride in his daughter, Rebecca Skloot (author of the bestseller The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks), his passion for books, and his fragile health all appear again and again in a series of well-chosen anecdotes. Recollections of resonant moments trigger wider associations and insights in many works of fiction — Proust's most famously — but Skloot's focus on “off-kilter” moments, when the world and his place in it seemed most unstable, is unique and fascinating. . . . Skloot's warmth makes us reluctant to part company with him. He's wise and humane — and funny, too." —Suzanne Koven, The Boston Globe
"An elegant meditation on balance, aging, helplessness, dependency and, especially, love. . . . Skloot's writing here is immediate, simple and vulnerable . . . . Achieves what good memoir ought to. His discomfort is made palpable, and my own seems, for a time, a little less lonely." —Claire Dederer, New York Times Book Review
"The vertigo experience stitches together the stories of the time predating and since his medical crisis in a way that makes the point that we are a composite of our days, even the crooked ones. . . . Skloot's honest and direct relaying of events and their aftermath highlight some universal themes such as hope and perseverance that show no matter how 'off-kilter' life gets, forward momentum somehow steadies its way through . . . . In many ways, this book is a sincere love story. Skloot and Beverly are presented with uncertain and frightening circumstances. But they take it on together and Skloot's descriptions of Beverly's responses and presence reflect a vast and grounded connection." —Kirsten Rian, The Oregonian
"While physical balance plays a role in some tales, it is the search for intellectual and emotional equilibrium that drives this work. His efforts to find the connection between such divergent topics as The King and I and his parents' relationship, or old standards and an MRI exam, create literary adventures that combine analysis and humor which seem destined to spin out of control but never do. With wide-ranging topics such as theater, medicine, travel, and cooking Skloot's prose jumps from the page. Whether he is describing nature ("But like an echo of sunlight, otherworldly bright yellow lichen flourished) or a dream about Nabokov dancing ("… he moved in waltz time when the music I heard was definitely samba.", his comparisons are poetic." —Publishers Weekly
"Inspiring. . . . He draws the reader into his topsy-turvy world of vertigo as only a writer who has been a victim of its symptoms could: how it feels to live without balance and how constantly being off-kilter alienates you from the world, even from one's home. Skloot's refreshingly honest look at his illness ends on a hopeful note." —Deborah Donovan, Booklist
"Skloot doesn't write about illness as much as within it, a fateful province. . . . And Skloot is primarily a poet who trades in placid surfaces that shimmer over hazardous shoals. . . . But allergic to excessive self-dramatization he invites readers through the familiarity of tone to consider our individual harms." —Ron Slate, On the Seawall: A Literary Website (http://www.ronslate.com)
"His essays are marked by dollops of humor and dashes of self-deprecating observation. . . . He is at the top of his game." —Sanford Pinsker, The Sewanee Review
"Vertigo is omnipresent throughout the book in both its physical and psychological forms, not strictly as a condition, but as a thematic link between fourteen masterfully written essays . . . . With the inquisitive approach of a scientist, the sensibility of a poet, and the humor of the resigned, Skloot presents vertigo as a metaphorical condition of humanity." —Geoff Kronik, Colorado Review
"Again and again, through these companionable essays, Skloot generates a sense of calm despite the tentativeness and the uncertainty that runs through day-to-day existence. Memory and meaning keep surfacing regardless of confusion and imbalance. The ground is solid no matter how much it seems to waver. As either essayist or memoirist--or as both at the same time--Floyd Skloot is engaging, open, and insightful, and Revertigo will reverberate in the reader long after the reading." —Robert Root, River Teeth
"Skloot's easy narrating voice and the integration of researched outside sources with personal remembrance has set up a portrait of the man as an aging artist. . . . In many ways, Skloot's memoir resembles Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking with his revisiting past experiences to make sense of those things that make no sense and in the use of outside sources to attempt to anchor that sense-making. We are sympathetic but also curious about the specifics of his illness and how it shapes the person we have come to enjoy; we also recognize as universal his metaphors equating aging with that same experience. A lovely read, Revertigo's story of acceptance creates a memoir to embrace." —Anne Drolet, North American Review
"Deeply reflective, in a voice filled with insight and wit, Revertigo is a journey into the heart and mind of a writer who is a master of the trials and transformations of memory and experience. Filled with gentle surprises (and even a recipe or two), this book is an extraordinary treasure." —Kristen Iversen, author of Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats
"Floyd Skloot's Revertigo is a beautifully-written, moving account of one man's off kilter life. Who would have imaged a memoir exploring months of extreme vertigo and decades of neurological turbulence would be filled with so much joy and optimism? This gentle, wise, and perceptive memoir never fails to surprise." —Dinty W. Moore, author of Growing Between Panic & Desire