Saturday, March 30, 2024


HeroinesHeroines by Kate Zambreno
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are some disagreeable reader comments about the author's excessiveness in this book, but I applaud its combination of memoir and literary commentary about the women writers who are psychologized and pathologized by their creative male partners, i.e. Zelda Fitzgerald, Vivien Eliot (Painted Shadow: The Life of Vivienne Eliot, First Wife of T. S. Eliot), Jane Bowles, Jean Rhys, June Miller (Henry and June), Sylvia Plath, Anaïs Nin, as well as fictional characters in Virginia Woolf, Kate Chopin, Gustave Flaubert, Anna Kavan, H.D., Elizabeth Hardwick'sThe Ghostly Lover, etc. In Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper, the doctor tells the woman writer "to never touch pen, brush, or pencil as long as you live." Kate Zambreno describes "mean reds," fears of abandonment, her IBS and endometriosis, obsessive shopping, and her history of depression and sleeplessness, hence shrinks, pills, hospitalization as one of the "slit-your-wrist girls." She is accused of writing which is too personal, too emotional, too excessive. While some of the stories were familiar, I was sorry to finish this enlightening book and I was grateful for the extensive bibliography of over 150 books and articles about these women's lives. My TBR (To Be Read) quakes under the strain.

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Monday, March 25, 2024


AbigailAbigail by Magda Szabó
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finally finished Abigail by Magda Szabó translated into English by Len Rix in 2020 which I started in CA weeks ago.. This was a dense piece of writing, a coming-of-age novel, which is not my favorite genre but the emphasis on plot kept me moving along. The narrator is placed unhappily in a strict girls' school in a small town in Hungary during WWII by her beloved military father, a general, and each chapter is skillfully filled with suspense so that it is unthinkable to abandon the book. By the end, the final pages pick up the pace and suspicions are confirmed as the heroine encounters grown up revelations and political insights about allies and enemies and the statue named Abigail who allays the troubles of the girls. I recommend Magda Szabó's work to Elena Ferrante fans for its youthful themes and wartime era as well as its psychological underpinnings. I preferred her earlier work, The Door, but have no regrets about reading either and welcomed the chance to learn a bit about Hungary.

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CostalegreCostalegre by Courtney Maum
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Costalegre is a story in which I keep trying to fill in all the fictional blanks with real artists. Evidently about Peggy Guggenheim (the mother is called Leonora) and her cadre of Surrealists on the Pacific Coast of Mexico near Careyes doing art and escaping from Nazis in 1937, it is told from the viewpoint of the lonely lovesick teen daughter (inspired by Guggenheim's ill-fated daughter Pegeen), this erratic crew bond, scrap and neglect each other like the real Marcel Duchamp, Andre Breton, Max Ernst, Djuna Barnes and Leonora Carrington might have. The chapters are short, labeled for days of the week as though a diary, and a smattering of drawings contribute to the whimsical touch of a lively coming-of-age contribution to the many writings on Peggy Guggenheim, her family and friends.

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ThreeThree by Ann Quin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finishing Three gave me a sense of accomplishment. Ann Quinwrote this dense experimental novel of a ménage a trois often using no distinguishing orthographies or paragraphs for the three different speakers (a British middle-class couple plus their missing tenant/visitor) as well as no such breaks in their journals, diaries, etc. Just endless unpunctuated sentences, thoughts and movement so it is never clear who is speaking: "verbiage bumping up against verbiage in a dim, junk-cluttered hall" described by Joshua Cohen in the introduction. Although confused by the lack of plot, I was at the same time, swept along trying to build a story and propulsively attuned to Quin's fine writing. I intend to read another of her works, Berg.
"...Days become shorter. Hours lengthen. Wind rises
out of the sea
carries mist
to the house. Buries itself
into stonework. The possibility of what might have been sinks
away. Into what is left."

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Ex-WifeEx-Wife by Ursula Parrott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ex-Wife by Ursula Parrott, published anonymously in 1929, was as good as promised when I heard about it on Backlisted's Patreon podcast and they recommended it as the feminine counterpart to Gatsby in describing the Jazz Age and what happens to young women who are caught between Victorian morality and the sexual revolution of the twenties. I responded with a raised glass to the blurb's description of the narrator as "wedged between Edith Wharton's constrained society girls and the squandered glamour of Jean Rhys's doomed wanderers."
The first person narrator, Pat, announces to her newest man, Noel:
"Don't have any illusions about me. I have slept with more men than I can remember." That was exaggeration, but I had to exaggerate, lest I should understate.
And he responds..."Whatever happened to you has made you poised and tolerant, and comprehending, and anyone who knows you should be grateful for whatever produced the result." But, in the all too familiar refrain, he's taken, and Pat continues the high life in search of a stable closure. And Ursula Parrott sold 100,000 copies of the novel.

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