Category Archives: Reviews

The Nuclear Family / The Nuclear Bomb: Revisiting Kate Zambreno’s O Fallen Angel in Trump America

O Fallen Angel Kate Zambreno

The first time I read Kate Zambreno’s O Fallen Angel was in 2012, not too long after it was first released on Chiasmus Press in 2010, and it felt like something I’d been starving for: the story of a girl raised by a housebound Mommy whose constant care is a form of creepy control, whose love is both dollifying and cannibalizing. The girl—Maggie—is stifled and self-seeking and, with limited tools with which to construct a self, self-destructs instead.

O Fallen Angel is Zambreno’s first book—she went on to garner a larger readership with her novel Green Girl and her critical book Heroines, both of which establish Zambreno as a formal innovator who is in constant conversation with dead critical theorists and Hollywood starlets, who returns from these conversations with new language with which to write the experience of the girl. Compared to Green Girl and Heroines, O Fallen Angel feels young, but in the best way—it’s desperate, searing, hurting, angry and unforgiving.

When I first read the novel five years ago, I loved it because I related so hard. Finally there was a mother in literature who wanted to “freeze [her children] when…they’re at the age before they start disagreeing with you,” who wanted to keep her self-harming girlkid out of therapy because psychologists “blame everything on the Mommy.” Maggie’s Mommy’s dollification is so extreme it even leads her to fantasize about Maggie’s death—in death, “finally Maggie will let Mommy dress her…and finally Maggie will be her girl yes her girl.” Finally there was a girl in literature who, raised by such a mother and just like me, was so unequipped to live her own life that she was fired from all her waitressing jobs, that she sought self-worth in the beds of brooding, bohemian boys, that she got rejected from in-patient psychiatric care because even her suicide plan wasn’t specific enough. And maybe it’s true that we see girls like Maggie in stories from Mary Gaitskll and her acolytes, but O Fallen Angel is the first book that I’ve read that is some degree of diagnostic, that shows the reader how the girl got that way.

And maybe—like the therapist of Mommy’s fantasies—Zambreno’s narrator blames the Mommy, but Mommy’s story, albeit judgmentally, gets told, too, and so O Fallen Angel gives us an intergenerational story of women teaching girls how to accept oppression, how to self-oppress, and why.

O Fallen Angel is told in the form of a triptych, narrated closely in turns to Mommy, Maggie, and the god Malachi. Mommy’s sentences are long and smushed together, free of the constraints of commas and periods, often including rhyming folk-wisdoms and bits of Bible verses that seem to be Mommy’s only external reference points with which to make sense of the world, but for Mommy they are enough. Maggie’s references expand to include fairy tales and Hollywood movies from the 50’s and 60’s, clearly inherited from Mommy, which have taught her to be prince-seeking; that the only way out of her Mommy’s American Dream is to latch her sense of self to a boy who looks like Marlon Brando and run to the other side of the proverbial tracks. Maggie’s also got what she’s learned from her brief stint as a psychology major. Maggie is drugging and slutting but she’s also reading desperately, reading in order to discover or assemble a self, but the thing is she’s too young and too sheltered; she hasn’t read enough to have left her hometown ideology behind for good, she hasn’t read enough enable her to know how to move around safely in Chicago, the city to which she’s relocated.

In 2012, maybe I hadn’t read enough, and I was reading desperately, self-seekingly, too, and I glossed over the cultural differences between Maggie’s family and my own, made the book into a book about me. But it’s 2017 now and I’ve gone through my Saturn return, and O Fallen Angel is being re-released on Harper Perennial in the very same month that Donald Trump has been inaugurated into the U.S. Presidency, and it feels like a different book. It’s no longer just a book for sad girls raised to be selfless dollies by controlling moms—it turns out to be a book about those 53% of white women voters so many of us were so shocked to learn about, and many others weren’t; a book about the constant and attentive labor those women do to uphold patriarchy and racism and corporate capitalism and anti-environmentalism as the True American Values, the constant and attentive labor they do in service of their own oppression. If the election had gone another way, the characters in this book might seem quaint, obscure, like a dying breed. Instead, the timing of O Fallen Angel’s re-release fuckedly transitions it from Sad Girl Cult Classic to Great American Novel in écriture féminine. In Mommy’s colliding sentences, we’re able to see how thoughtless associations and oft-repeated phrases and rhymes take the place of logic: Continue reading

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Dark Continent Dubfeed: On Vidhu Aggarwal’s The Trouble with Humpadori

Vidhu Aggarwal The Trouble with Humpadori

The smashing spectacle of Bollywood, the feminine grotesque of Gurlesque mashed with the colors and sounds of sci-fi and fantasy comics—all these obsessions assemble in Vidhu Aggarwal’s electric debut poetry collection, The Trouble with Humpadori (The Great Indian Poetry Collective Press, 2016). Aggarwal’s poetic range includes text art, sound, video and live performance.  Aggarwal, both an artist and Professor of Postcolonial/Transnational Studies, surely embodies a new kind of artist-scholar. In her book, Aggarwal creates the interstellar character Humapadori (“Hump” for short) who acts as a messenger for extraterrestrial beings, a medium sent down from the cosmos. Move over Ziggy Stardust. It’s time for Humpadori’s time to occupy the international stage.

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To All the Young Adult Novels I’ve Read Before: A Look at Jenny Han’s Lara Jean Song Covey Series

 

Jenny Han's series about the charming Lara Jean Song Covey

I was skeptical when I first picked up Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, the first volume about Lara Jean Song Covey, a Korean American girl living in the suburbs of Virginia with a single dad and two sisters. I don’t usually read young adult fiction, but when I saw that the novel was about a biracial girl, I decided to give it a go. It’s not everyday when Asian American girls are stars of YA novels, and as a scholar of Asian American Studies and literature, I knew I had to give the world of YA a shot.

Lara Jean is a dreamy-eyed baker, scrapbooker, middle child, and high school junior. Dreamy-eyed because instead of running around chasing boys, she writes a heartfelt letter to every boy she has ever loved and stows it away in her hatbox. She is a master at the art of scrapbooking, claiming: “A good scrapbook has texture. It’s thick and chunky and doesn’t close all the way.” She looks up to her older sister, Margot, and cares for her younger sister, Kitty, completely devoid of the middle child syndrome that plagued me during my teen years. She is kind, creative, intelligent, prone to accidents, and gets a little too lost in her head sometimes, but other than that, she is a charming, well-rounded character. Continue reading

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How to Not Tell a Rape Joke–Adrienne Truscott’s Asking For It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy And Little Else!

Performance still from ASKING FOR IT

Performance still from ASKING FOR IT

Asking for It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy And Little Else! is a performance that’s very much about performance. It’s a one-woman show where the performer runs out into the audience to steal sips of audience member drinks, leaving lipstick trails on our cocktail glasses. The character that Adrienne Truscott portrays is a party girl who just wants to go out and have fun. Along the way, she encounters a bartender who wants to get her blackout drunk so that the men at his bar can have their way with her… again. When told from this character’s perspective, the idea is horrifying. Then you start to realize how nonchalantly this “joke” could be told from a comic’s mouth into a microphone. Truscott’s anonymous character is the female butt of a misogynist joke manifested in the flesh. She’s the embodiment of the woman whose body and misery is someone else’s punch line. Truscott wants the audience to remember that the woman on the receiving end of a rape joke is in fact a real human being who statistically is out in the world being assaulted somewhere right now.

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FROM THE STACKS: The Last Woman Alive – Marlen Haushofer’s The Wall

From the Stacks is a series on Weird Sister wherein we pull a book—old, new, or anything in between—from our bookshelves, and write something about it.

*Marlen Haushofer’s The Wall

I first encountered Marlen Haushofer’s The Wall (originally published in German as Die Wand) searching for audiobooks to listen to at a Sisyphean temp job, in the second level basement “B2” of the downtown library. I put books on carts and scanned them, I boxed them and stacked the boxes five high. I did this every day for eight hours. I can’t recommend the audiobook version of The Wall because it’s mostly whispered, a reading that does disservice to the confidence of its narrative. There is no word in the text that wavers. It is a near perfect book, a quiet meditation on the end of the world, a thriller that could put you to sleep. Written in 1963, The Wall still feels prescient. It knows the end is near, and also not.

haushofer1935

Marlen Haushofer, 1935

The Wall is a dystopic Walden, written with total control and impassive cool. The style reminds me most of Elena Ferrante, but the “weird family” of The Wall comprises only one woman, one cow, one dog, one cat and her kittens. The title refers to an invisible wall that shows up one evening and separates the narrator from the rest of the world, who appear to be dead anyway. The Wall nearly ignores the most fundamental rule of writing human beings, namely, that there has to be two of them. Emphasis on nearly; it’s hard not to talk about the genius of this book without spoiling the ending, which is swift, elegant, and gemlike in its precision. It happens in a gasp. Continue reading

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White Space, Banana Ketchup & Karaoke: A Review of Kimberly Alidio’s After projects the resound

9780996400183

I was introduced to Kimberly Alidio at Effie Street in Silverlake, Los Angeles, at a quaint reading in the backyard of a professor’s house. I was intrigued by the book Alidio held in her hands—a sky blue volume with a longhaired figure on all fours, seemingly ingesting or expelling pink and orange confetti. Soon I was even more jarred and enthralled by the pieces she read aloud, poems speaking, stuttering, and singing about empire, migration, diaspora, and queerness—subjects I had become familiar with as a queer Filipina American and budding academic. After projects the resound (Black Radish) does not only interrogate these concepts, but transforms them, remakes them, and melds them through reverberating word play, experiments with sound, and even through the strategic use of white space. The final stanza in “All the Pinays are straight, all the queers are Pinoy, but some of us” demonstrates this:

                                                                      I will never not 

want to be violent with you (dare you to say 

this isn’t love, queen)

pray for

her resurrection every easter

  

“I’m just so bored and so pretty and not white” (66)

Although you may need to take a second to comprehend what is occurring, the sleek alliteration of the “w” and “n” sounds in the first two lines allows the poem to roll off your tongue, a slow, accentuated, but nevertheless pleasurable foray into the complexities and obscurities of Pinxy queerness. The enjambments, line breaks, and spaces in between help anchor and pace the reader, allowing us to appreciate the various intonations of sound. These rhetorical, sonic, and spatial devices showed me that I did not need the convenience of clarity to enjoy and appreciate Alidio’s work. Her delightfully playful and musical words and sounds, for me, emulate the witty banter between Pinxys as we process the intersections of Catholicism, queerness, and brownness together in conversation. Continue reading

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FROM THE STACKS: The Honesty of Jean Rhys

From the Stacks is a new series on Weird Sister wherein we pull a book—old, new, or anything in between—from our bookshelves, and write something about it.

*

The Collected Novels of Jean Rhys

The Collected Novels of Jean Rhys #feministshelfie

I recently had a conversation with a man about Bukowski. Had I read much Bukowski? I said I’ve avoided a lot of the bro-writers: Bukowski, Burroughs, Miller, Kerouac (though I’ve come to love Kerouac). He said, Yeah, those guys are great writers, but, you know, they’re not really great toward women.

It’s not surprising we have a whole genre of literature by men who disrespect, objectify, reduce, and silence women. A more interesting question is, who are the women—especially the early women writers—of whom we might say the same: they aren’t really great toward men, you know, but they’re still worth reading.

I posed this question to a brilliant poet friend, who responded that while male writers are often being sexist when they write about women, women are often being honest. So the comparison doesn’t really work, she said, laughing. She then made some contemporary suggestions: Dodie Bellamy. Kathy Acker. Rebecca Solnit.

But what about going further back into the archives?

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PJ Harvey in LA: 50 Ft Queenie and Rising

Photo by: Solvej Schou

Photo by: Solvej Schou

“Tell you my name/ F U and CK/ 50 foot queenie/ Force ten hurricane!!”

I first heard Polly Jean Harvey belt those words–from her fuzz-soaked mantra “50 Ft Queenie” off her second album “Rid of Me”– live in 1993, at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles. I was 14 then, a combat boots wearing Hollywood teen with anger over the death of my mom, who died when I was a kid, just brimming on the surface, ready to explode.

PJ Harvey embodied that anger. She harnessed it. She made it acceptable, accepted, real and true. Words steeped in sexuality, revenge, art and the blues surged through her. She was wiry, stylish and beautifully British. She was the main headlining act, the star, only a year after her 1992 debut “Dry” hit all of us with an onslaught of grinding, raw Telecaster rock ‘n’ roll and songs referencing the bible, desire and rejection, and filled with gut-clenching moans. Distinctly female moans. Radiohead opened for HER, not the other way around.

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The Strongest Girls in the World: A Review of Wigs

Still image from WIGS

Writer/performer/director/artist/professor, Lindsay Beamish thinks about rooms a lot. Some of her earliest art projects show a fascination with women in abandoned rooms. Ms. Beamish likes to make jokes while alone in her bedroom, and she once locked herself in a motel room in the middle of nowhere Wyoming to write her Master’s thesis, which garnered her the Iron Horse Discovered Voices Award in 2011.

Beamish describes her current project, Wigs as being about “two captured preteen girls locked in a room.” Wigs is a two-woman theatrical piece written, directed and starring Lindsay Beamish and Amanda Vitiello, and is currently showing at the New York International Fringe Festival. The origins of Wigs began with Beamish and Vitiello, in an empty room. According to the Wigs Artist’s Note, with “the impetus of challenging ourselves to work in ways that we hadn’t before; ways that were uncomfortably outside of our typical modes of creating original theater.” Rehearsal for Wigs began with Beamish shouting commands at Vitiello who only brought with her to that initial rehearsal space, The Flo Rida featuring Sia song, “Wild Ones” which is prominently featured in the final piece.

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Cure for the End of Summer Blues: A Review of Mall Brat

Mall Brat Laura Marie Marciano
I met Laura Marie Marciano at a reading in an eminently Instagrammable and chic bookshop in Chicago. My partner noticed how taken I was with her work, and encouraged me to introduce myself. Marciano’s work has a clarity of voice and vision to which we can all aspire to.

She read from her book, Mall Brat (Civil Coping Mechanisms Press, 2016), a collection of poems defined by its unflinching approach to sexuality and memory. Mall Brat’s forward (framed as “From the author at fifteen”) sets up the book brilliantly with details of a summer romance between the speaker at fifteen and a man six years her senior. The facts are excruciating to a reader aware of the power imbalance, begging for someone—anyone—to step in and save this child. Instead, Marciano forces the reader to inhabit the speaker’s thought process at that age, and to remind us that our own was equally short-sighted and precarious:

“I was the type of girl who might be featured in some virgin porn, just a little bit plump, with a second day tan, and extreme insecurity—but, also, smart, because I had read a lot and I had an older brother.”

As I read these poems, I find myself returning to a line from Dorothy Allison’s book of essays, Skin: “I can write about years in a paragraph, but the years took years to pass.” There is often a human desire, and a tendency in some poetry, to simplify the past and obscure it with language—to decide on a narrative that is easy to repeat with a few totemic details for emphasis.  Marciano refuses a smooth rendition of the past and honors those years, reaching into their layers and maintaining eye contact “as i sink my hand deeper/into the barrel of stones.”
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