May 24, 2012

Daphne Gottlieb on Katherine Dunn

In 1989, I had a cat named Pooka and I didn't eat meat. I was baby steps queer. I shaved my head and dyed my hair pink and shaved my head and pierced my nose. I marched on Washington DC. There was no internet. Being a fierce outcast took work. All my clothes were black. 

In 1989, books were stars -- you wanted to know what the newest, the hottest, the edgiest were. Mary Gaitskill's Bad Behavior was like that. The RE/Search books were like that. 

I was 20. At 20 and before that, books change your life better and more profoundly than they can later. Siddhartha. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The Little Prince. Still Life with Woodpecker. Cat's Cradle

And Geek Love. The story of a "freak show" family-- what begins as a story about outcasts and quickly becomes a story about cults and betrayal, only to ultimately become a meditation on family, love, home and sacrifice. 

I was a freak show. I wanted to find my cult. I knew all about betrayal. The rest I continue to learn about. 

I have read that book at least four times now. I come back to it and come back to it, a favorite resort, a dry place in a storm, a party, a prayer meeting. It has never disappointed me. And I always find something new. I hope you do, too

(You can learn more about Daphne Gottlieb herself here.)

May 22, 2012

Brooke Champagne on Vivian Gornick

On Being (S)Mothered: Vivian Gornick’s Fierce Attachments

If I used the word perambulatory to describe this book, I’d stop to imagine my mother’s response: why do I always have to look up half the words you write, which invariably leaves me to interpret her comment as either compliment or pejorative (there you go again! she’d surely say). My mother is my favorite passive-aggressive editor.

But Vivian Gornick’s Fierce Attachments is a perambulatory book, one in which a mother and daughter stroll down their New York streets across the decades only to misunderstand each other more deeply—more fiercely—as they slowly gray. Both women rhetorically strike back and forth with aplomb; their words stomp down the pages. Gornick struggles with her involuntary reactions to her mother’s ideas, the rush of blood to the head, the irritation morphing into rage. Oftentimes on walks that start off simple—let’s go for a walk and talk—she endeavors not to “make a holocaust of the afternoon.”

These are struggles of anyone with a mother, even one like mine, who perhaps I’ve been unfair to. Rather than an editor, she can be quite a sycophant. Ah, you wrote a piece about Gornick, she’ll say, how wonderful. Now who is he? Infuriating.

Hear Brooke read from this here.
(Learn more about Brooke Champagne herself here.)