Too Much and Not the Mood by Durga Chew-Bose
Part essays, part memoir, Durga Chew-Bose’s collection Too Much and Not the Mood is a thoughtful homage to the humans and passions that have contributed to the author’s present self. It is Chew-Bose’s first book, and the writings are heavily focused on identity and culture. Born in Montreal, Chew-Bose is a first generation immigrant of Indian parents. In the essay “Tan Lines,” she reflects on her blossoming awareness of her otherness while growing up among white friends. “As a kid, I accepted the compliments my skin would receive from, for instance, the mother offering me orange wedges after soccer practice, or as I reapplied sunscreen at the local pool. I was, as most children are, innocent to the syntax of difference.” Her descriptions of home, family and heartache are at once specific to her own unique experience, but manage, simultaneously, to be infinitely relatable.
While Chew-Bose’s readers will undoubtedly be quickly absorbed in her familiar and inviting prose, it doesn’t take many pages to realize that she is a near virtuosic collector of cultural references. To read “Heart Museum,” the book’s first essay, is to be swept into a maelstrom of proper nouns: movies, writers, actors, artists – some that will be familiar, but others that may lose us. The book’s title, for example, is a reference to creative fatigue borrowed from a line in Virginia Woolf’s “A Writer’s Diary.” While possible to imagine this name-dropping as obscure and exclusive to a specific audience, Chew-Bose’s breathless enthusiasm is contagious and disarming, and one cannot help but feel a sense of warmth for her eagerness.
Her deftly composed lines conjure a universal passion for creative expression. In “Heart Museum,” she describes experiencing a feeling of “infinity” after seeing a play:
That spiked measure of awe – of oof – feels like general slowing, even though what’s really taking place is nothing short of a general quickening. The sheer, ensorcelled panic of feeling moved.
The more modest (but no less impactful) “Since Living Alone” is a reflection on the virtues of solitude:
Precision of self was a quality I once strived for, but since living alone, clarity, I’ve learned – when it comes – furnishes me with that thing we call boldness. Self-imposed solitude developed in me, as White wrote about Duras, a knack for improving on the facts with every new version of the same event. Living alone, I soon caught on, is a form of self-portraiture, of retracing the same lines over and over – of becoming.
Much of Chew-Bose’s writings land as loose and impressionistic: a collection of memories, some complete, and others just touched upon. The compilation falls together as a swirling of experiences, lightly tinged with nostalgia. While her voice is undoubtedly mature, she is in no rush to draw conclusions – happier instead to bear witness to life’s many beauties and complexities. “A need for completeness can, off and on, squander cadence,” she writes. “Isn’t it fun to read a sentence that races ahead of itself?”
Too Much and Not the Mood is a terrific collection that that swells with love. It is a reminder for all of us to rekindle our passions – the things that make us unique – while also a reminder to connect with the humans who have given us meaning.