Connective Tissue: A Review of Leah Dieterich’s ‘Vanishing Twins’

Leah Dieterich believes she consumed her twin in utero and has been searching for her twin (or for herself?) ever since. But she cannot love herself unless she can first differentiate her actual self from her potential, twin self through moments of mirroring, twinning, doubling.

Vanishing Twins (Soft Skull Press, 2018) is a memoir in ballet: overture, acts, repeating themes; a story of scenes told in gesture. The scenes are vignettes, moments strung together with ample white space in between. It’s a story of lovers coming together, leaving each other, and then returning together again—a classic ballet narrative, where a couple’s fate feels assured and their parallel journeys of struggling alone with their best and worst selves is the real drama of the story.

Of what is a connection between two people made? Leah’s story is a highly tale focused on relationships, and on unraveling the space between people who are drawn to each other. We see Dieterich propelling herself at attractions, seeking out pairings of Leah and [other] over and over again. Because she believes herself a twin, she follows her cravings for pairing, seeking out doubles she can attach herself to, trying over and over again to mend the split she can’t recall (apart from her own imaginings). Dieterich is a magnet looking for a like polarity.

Her marriage to a man named Eric is the connective tissue of the narrative—a young love that matured, fell apart, and then fell back together. Like twins in utero, Dieterich and Eric grew together, risked consuming each other, discovered they could live independent of each other, and then began to thrive. Togetherness shifts from a reduction of the self to an expansion, an independence with an other, rather than a co-dependence.

This memoir also explores bisexuality and the constellation of questions about how to navigate that identity inside relationships: open, monogamous, platonic, romantic. Dieterich is unfailingly open to her own curiosities, which makes for an engaging read. At times the speaker feels like she does not want to examine the sources of her curiosity-driven hungers, instead supplying the reader with images of the pas de deux and the absent twin to answer for what seems to me like indulgence, rather than desire.

The instinctual nature of Dieterich’s exploration is the charm of her voice and narrative style, reflecting the motions of the ballets she loves, reflecting her way of dancing with vocabulary, turning words around and around until she spins out from them. This is an artist’s memoir as much as it is a writer’s—she plays with image, language, and ornamentation in ways that are as much for sheer aesthetic pleasure as they are to further the narrative, and yet she keeps the narrative feeling lean and necessary. The story is a dancer’s body: tightly coiled muscle around bones; the air surrounding the body’s motions is the white space vibrating between scenes.

Vanishing Twins is a book reminiscent of the current spate Netflix special features: eminently posed, well-lit and tasteful, its characters enjoyable and consumable. I enjoyed spending 300 pages with Leah the character, and while at times I wished she would interrogate further the whys of her desires, I would still call her up if I wanted company for drinks and a ballet.

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Eve Ettinger
Eve Ettinger

Eve Ettinger is an MFA in Creative Writing candidate at Hollins University (May '19), where she is working on a memoir. She is a board member for the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, and served in the Peace Corps in Kyrgyzstan (2015-17) as an educator and community organizer. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, The Rumpus, Autostraddle, The Establishment, Cracked.com, and Cosmopolitan. She has discussed homeschooling reform with outlets like NPR's All Things Considered, the BBC, and more. You can listen to her podcast, Kitchen Table Cult, which she co-hosts with Kieryn Darkwater and follow her on Twitter (@eve_ettinger).

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