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My Review of Lisa Carver’s No Land’s Man

Updated: Mar 1

At Heavy Feather Review, September 2023

In the preface for her newest book, No Land’s Man, Lisa Carver says of herself: “I wander through life … getting lost and losing things and forgetting things and breaking things and tripping on nothing. It’s a miracle I’ve survived this far.” This turns out to be a useful disclaimer for the energetic, capricious, and sometimes bumpy ride ahead as we follow Lisa on a thought-provoking and high-emotion intercontinental adventure.

At the outset, Carver grabs you by the collar and throws you on the plane with her as she heads to Africa, alone, with no clear agenda. There is little explanation as to why she bolts to Botswana, other than mentioning that she needed some assistance via distance for a breakup that keeps failing to stay broken up, but really it just seems like she went to Africa because, well, “Why not?”

That reasoning seems more in line with the classic Carver form; she’s impossible to pin down, constantly setting up expectations just to upset them, and full of high contrast. She’s a white woman in Botswana, then she’s a poor person living it up in Paris, she’s a devout Catholic giving blowjobs and an outspoken feminist who spends much of the book exploring men’s feelings. A charmingly unreliable narrator, or more of a trickster, gliding between boundaries—cultural and geographical—with ease and jokes, constantly breaking rules and exploiting contradictions in order to find new ways of seeing things. 

For instance, Carver raves about her time in Botswana, she feels so at home, so alive, referring to it as “The most fun, the wisest and the best place I’d ever lived.” So what does she do? “I bought a plane ticket to Paris,” she writes, and she leaves. She is no land’s Lisa Carver, a heart unable to be colonized by place. At any rate, perfection is not enough of a challenge, and she heads to France. 

Note, I haven’t said much about what happens in the book while she’s in Botswana, but so what. “Every day, almost nothing happens. Every day is perfect,” but not much needs to happen. The play-by-play is less important than the color commentary in Carver’s work, as you glide from her eternally youthful perspectives on life, to sage advice. A wise old teen she is, laid bare and vulnerable by her honesty, but protected by a punkish wit.

The second half—with Carver in Paris—is where the book really finds its footing (it’s also where you’ll find the juiciest and most complex lusty bits I’ve come across in one of her books). Her language deepens and matures in real-time. The first half in Botswana is a retreat governed by wide-eyed curiosity where she is reset as the “narrator” of her life again, but the second half is where Carver moves about with more certainty, dropping more insightful nuggets of wisdom along the way. It all makes for a captivating progression as it strikes a balance.

Once she lands in Paris, the change of tone is jarring, in a good way. A taxi driver late for a scheduled pick up, traffic, concrete, and middle fingers. Carver makes you feel the rush, the friction, and the anxiety of her new setting:

These French people, this French air, these French Stones beneath my feet, all pulsed with urgency, energy, and purpose period.

Here she sets forth a solid plan: she’s ready to go on 100 dates in 90 days. This ambitious Tindering lasts for one date, as she (spoiler alert) ends up marrying the first guy she goes on a date with. Because, why not!

Love and the city becomes the activating agent for Carver to give more space to her thoughts on her relationship to America, her relationship to relationships, freedom and control, which become the central themes of the book. And she does it with a style that can be traced back to her early days in the zine world, where she wrote and published Rollerderby in the late 80s until 1999. Hers is a fearless approach to writing, and one that is always poignant and hyper-consumable. It never takes me long to read Carver’s books, breezing along, high on fumes given off by peering in on the lives of others, as she collapses the difference between writing and being. It’s an addictive energy. I can find no better way to put it than in the words of Bruno, her date -> lover -> husband: “You have an electric energy. Impulsive and possibly dangerous.”

No Land’s Man, by Lisa Carver. Pig Roast Publishing LLC, March 2023. 237 pages. $19.99, paper.

Buy directly from Pig Roast Publishing LLC

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