Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing: Essays

Lauren Hough. Vintage, $16.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-593-08076-4

In this candid debut, Hough traces her history of survival by “bending, twisting, and flattening” herself in environments hostile to her. Eleven entries recount her attempts at adaptability, first in Children of God (now known as the Family), the predatory cult in which she was raised, and later in joining the Air Force as a gay woman in the late 1990s. “Badlands” and “Speaking in Tongues” contrast ecstatic experiences of belonging both as a bar bouncer and while dancing on barroom floors with what she imagines her parents were seeking in the Family: “It felt like safety. Maybe it felt something like family, though I don’t use that term.” “Cell Block” presents a haunting chorus of female voices Hough hears from her cell after she is arrested for getting into a fight. The prose is often conversational and witty, as in “Boys on the Side,” in which she compares finally sleeping with women to “suddenly getting to play in the World Cup when all you’ve done is play pickup soccer with the local divorced dads.” At the work’s heart is the therapeutic act of telling, and while some sections gesture toward cultural criticism, Hough is at her best when illuminating her circumstances. This moving account of resilience and hard-earned agency brims with a fresh originality. (Apr.)