Dear readers of Frances Farmer is My Sister - I am so excited! I have my first not bad, but less than glowing review of O Fallen Angel! Up at The Rumpus written by one A Wolfe (ha! ha! that's funny? right? funny? A funny name for a critic? If you read O Fallen Angel it's funny, all the little red riding hood references: "Maggie likes the wolves/yes/Maggie likes the wolves/The hungry boys with their wolfy eyes and wolfy teeth that leave a trail of inconvenient hickeys.")
But this is not to start any fight about the review, it is a tepid review, it is not glowing, it is not openly hostile, it is fine, I'm sure the reviewer is quite smart and knows a lot about literature. I'm glad to see the book engaged with, definitely. And obviously I wrote O Fallen Angel as an irritant, it is irritating, it is supposed to rub people, and if it didn't rub someone the wrong way besides my in-laws I would have worried. But I think the review brought up some interesting ideas of what literature should be and its function in society that I think A Wolfe and I have disagreements with, I think this is fruitful, a fruitful cause for a discussion.
But let me digress. The REAL HORROR of this review. OH MY GOD WHY DID THEY USE THAT PICTURE. I kid you not. I was going to write a post about this picture I thought of this idea yesterday. I was Googling myself - how sexual does that sound - it is masturbatory, all of this - and this picture is the first in Google Images ALWAYS to pop up. THE BANE OF MY EXISTENCE. And actually this morning, before I had found the review, I had emailed the webmaster of the former college where I worked to ask them to take it down!
The background behind the picture. Five years ago I am teaching summer school at the community college, it is late at night, I believe I had exercised and not showered, it's gross I know, it was very hot, I am sans makeup or any hair product and no I am not glowing. This person who was supposed to take my picture had been bugging me for months! and finally I let her. At the little shit cubicle where I was at underneath the sterile lighting.
VDubs tells us to write of what our vanity means to us....Well I'm not Helen of Troy, I have passed my lolita sell-by date, but in my mind, I do not look like this. I have never claimed to be the most photogenic but this image, in PARTICULAR, makes me feel like such a hag. And it lives on forever! On the Internet!
Dear People at the Rumpus. Thank you for reviewing my book. I do appreciate it. CAN YOU PLEASE SWAP OUT MY PICTURE?
You can use my too-serious author photo:
Or this one taken a couple years ago outside of the Louise Bourgeois Maman at the Tate:
Or you can use this one! It is a very recent one. My hair has gone a bit grey writing the essay collection and I am wearing more make-up than usual.
or I can alternately choose more candid images where I look sultry, wistful, coy, sexy, fucked, angelic, thoughtful, any of the above adjectives, but all of these are from a while ago, as I no longer consider myself in the process of posing, to quote Barthes, kind of.
UPDATE: They say they changed the photo! Yes! If you are wondering what photo it is, you will have to Google me, it is the first one that comes up, although I have now "reported" it! Ha!
NOW. On to the review. In the review Maggie is referred to as a "bipolar Midwestern prostitute." Label that, yo. No, seriously. Maggie is *diagnosed* as bipolar in the work, by doctors, just like the woman in the Yellow Wallpaper is diagnosed as neurasthenic, as is Clarissa Dalloway (a main inspiration for the work, that explains that strange flitting presence of the prophet-soldier, see, Septimus Smith isn't entirely fleshed out either, umm, okay, that's another point). But if we just label Maggie as bipolar we are missing perhaps what I'm trying to say about how the DSM-IV codifies identity, and most importantly, unhappiness. That's why I make it totally over-the-top, having Mommy refer to Maggie as "bipolar-schizophrenic-or-something." Plus. Maggie is not a prostitute! Well I make a few comments that she's hooked, very tongue-in-cheek, where I ask if sleeping with a boy to get a taxi or a meal etc. etc. counts as hooking? and I think I was trying to say something about the girl as the commodity, the girl as always a sort of prostitute, just like Acker makes that point with Janey Smith going from being the LOUSY MINDLESS SALESGIRL to the prostitute. Has Maggie prostituted herself? Yes, in various forms. Did the Maggies that I knew prostitute themselves? Yes, and that doesn't mean they were ALWAYS 1800 numbers, but that might have tried that, too. But I wouldn't label her as a prostitute and certainly not as a bipolar prostitute! How Lifetime movie of the week is that! I mean Holly Golightly hooked yes she did, how else did she get that coatcheck money? there was some SERVICE RENDERED, but I wouldn't describe Holly Golightly as an "Manhattan prostitute with undiagnosable borderline personality disorder." No no no! Because I don't think it's very smart to diagnose characters, even if they're diagnosed within the text, esp. if the text is a SATIRE.
Moving on. A Wolfe seemed to take main issue that I didn't love my characters. Well, that's not exactly true. I think I showed a lot of love and compassion for Maggie and Malachi, I've written about it before, it's been documented elsewhere, I won't be boring and get into that. She says something intriguing that she wishes I loved them enough to hate them, which is an intriguing point, if I didn't get that across in the novel, then I failed. But I take issue with the idea that a novel is all supposed to be about relationships, and the FLESHING out of relationships. Some novels are about relationships. This one wasn't. Maybe if Lorrie Moore had taken on this subject matter, yes, I'm sure she would have written it VASTLY differently. And I think since A Wolf IDENTIFIED with the setting, perhaps, or perhaps with a facet of the character Maggie, that she wished for this to be a work of IDENTIFICATION, of EMPATHY. But it's not. If anything it's a novel about ALIENATION, and I am in many ways alienating my readers, drawing from theater - Brecht's A-effect, Artaud's notion of the plague, Karen Finley. But I think it's a disappointing conventional read to expect all novels to be about characters, a novel in which character and relationships are privileged, and I think of that as a sort of MFA-itis. And then the reviewer, hilariously, notes that there's some hint that Maggie is in love with her father, she wishes that could have been dealt with more deeply...ummm...that was a joke, about Dora, who Freud diagnosed as being in love with her father, I am saying something about law-makers, those who diagnose, who have authority, yes, there is a family romance going on, but I think the novel more than anything was about an oedipal power structure, the Daddy as power, the Mommy as rearranging your mind. I think the real issue I take with this review is it reduces the entire book to the domestic, to the relational, when mostly this novel is a non-novel, okay, an anti-novel, satirizing not only gender roles but an American family during wartime! This is a novel of protest, I really love what Roz Ito has had to say about that. She wrote me in an email: Mommy is the Bush administration. Yes! I wrote back delighted. Yes! Mommy IS the Bush administration. I love that.