i am, doubtless, doing a grave injustice to this book, which will be probably rectified the moment i read reviews and secondary material on it. but i...morei am, doubtless, doing a grave injustice to this book, which will be probably rectified the moment i read reviews and secondary material on it. but i have a prejudice against alice walker. she seems to me, for an accumulation of reasons none of which sits discreetly in my mind, identifiable, a sloppy writer. say this book. the story is powerful and powerfully told. but then there's a whole lot of anthropology thrown in, and some etymology, and some sort of grand historical theory of patriarchy and the submission of women, and when you scratch the surface a tiny little bit you realize that it's made up. i didn't scratch the whole surface, so it's entirely possible that some of it -- the core of it? -- may not be made up. but when i scratched i found sloppiness or unabashed invention (some invention is openly acknowledged in the postscript) and, well, i am not sure i liked it.
i could be persuaded, but, right now, i don't see why alice walker needs to come up with an invented nomenclature (say) for stuff that truly exists. she doesn't offer any reason and i don't see a reason myself.
so this is what took the book south for me. the first part is beautiful, but then, well, i stopped being engaged, because i felt i was being taken for a ride, and i become unconvinced with everything. what is the relationship between adam and lisette all about? what is its narrative purpose? how do people (reviewers, etc.) know that tashi is treated by carl jung? are the clay figurines for real? do women really leave refugee camps because otherwise they'd be asked to work? what?
nice treatment of post-traumatic mental pain, and powerful, powerful indictment of genital mutilation. i thought i knew about it but i didn't know a thing. genital mutilation must stop. (less)
benightedly i gave this 4 stars i'm sorry/you are/yes/why did you give it 4 stars/i wanted it to be like Aof R/ poetry is never the same/as i'm learnin...morebenightedly i gave this 4 stars i'm sorry/you are/yes/why did you give it 4 stars/i wanted it to be like Aof R/ poetry is never the same/as i'm learning mostly from the reviews i am too inexperienced to learn from the book itself/some of these poems are surreal/they are/you don't like surreal/i like surreal but it doesn't quite talk to me the language seems gimmicky to me without/ i've heard this before/wisdom i guess/poetry's curse/insight quotability a light/we fumble in the dark/there's a glacier then there is a volcano polar opposites/which pole/i'd say the north pole/it's the easiest to assume/there is no life at the south pole except of course that which the explorers bring basically themselves/you mean native life but then how would we know/i mean currently/ah, temporality/i loved io/she's feathery and magic/thank you/you're welcome/i hate war/me too(less)
at first i thought, shucks, i should have read Saving Francesca, i don't understand a thing. but the fact is that i had read Saving Francesca, well, a...moreat first i thought, shucks, i should have read Saving Francesca, i don't understand a thing. but the fact is that i had read Saving Francesca, well, a third of it at least, and i had had to stop because the puppy love was really boring me to pieces. and then someone in the RA group suggested that i might like this, and i said, no no no, i had to stop reading Saving Francesca because of the puppy love, and they said, yes, that was a problem for me too, but this book is different. and maybe now i should backtrack and say that when i asked for advice in the Readers Advisory group i had just read, or was in the middle of reading, the masterful Code Name Verity, and that the suffering contained in that book, along with the author's conveyance that this suffering had meaning and was in fact redeemed by great love, had much lifted my spirits and filled my heart. and when i said this, someone in RA recommended this book, and that's why i was reading it, even though i kept thinking that, not having finished Saving Francesca, i couldn't possibly understand anything.
but i forged on. and then i realized that what marchetta does is give you the story a little bit at a time, so that you have all of its pieces only at the end. it's really great writing, simple unassuming writing with a genius organization underneath, so that you get to know all these people slowly and confusingly, the way you'd know people in real life if they showed up all at once, ten or so of them, barely remembering who's brother or nephew or uncle of whom, but slowly getting it, because marchetta knows what she's doing and how to bring you to the core of things. and the core of things, which slowly unfolds in all this confusion of kinship and inner pain, is that there is a family that was struck by a tragedy so profound that, two years later, everyone is still reeling -- reeling so badly that they are abandoning each other and betraying each other when they were each other's lifelines. and the worst thing of all is that they are abandoning tom, an unmoored teenager and arguably the book's protagonist (hence the YA designation, which, once again, seems to me entirely perplexing), who, as a consequence of the tragedy and the abandonments, got himself into a heap of trouble and is now hanging doubled up on the ropes of his life, totally out of juice, nothing left to him, a disaster in human shape.
the sydney of marchetta is a nice little city, with communities, local hang outs, and people who know about each other and care about each other beyond text messages and facebook status updates. they have been in each other's lives for generations (well, as many generations as being white in australia allows), have spent countless christmases together, have seen each other's children grow up, and don't understand not spending time together.
the book is a slow rebuilding of the community in the aftermath of trauma, which is also a slow building of the novel, the narrative, the threads that keep the story together. and while at first you wonder what the hell is wrong with these people, with their touchiness and immense capacity for taking things the wrong way, at the end you realize that marchetta has brought you through a journey in which people have hesitantly but tenderly started to heal each other, and in the process have healed you a bit too. (less)
this book seems to cause strong reactions, so let me first say what i think it is not:
* it is not a book that predicts how a generic child will impro...morethis book seems to cause strong reactions, so let me first say what i think it is not:
* it is not a book that predicts how a generic child will improve when treated the way virginia axline treats dibs (how does she treat dibs? she mostly describes dibs’ behavior, not hers).
* it is not a book about diagnostics (dibs is given exactly zero labels).
* it is not a book about technique; it is not a manual even in the broadest sense of the word.
* finally, it is not a book about etiology or the genesis of children's pain, not even this particular child's, even though the author does give some sense of what happened to dibs prior to their encounter.
what i think this book is, is the story of a very unique encounter between two unique individuals who found each other, clicked in a tremendously effective way, and led each other to change and growth. for all of axline's emphasis on the self (the finding of the self, the building up of the self, the solidifying of the self, etc.), DSS is about relationship and love -- the specific relationship axline built with this specific child and the love story they created.
what struck me most about the book, what i keep thinking about, is that healing love, in whatever context you find it, has one defining feature: it makes room for the other. axline's behavior toward dibs may seem at a superficial level pretty empty. she echoes his words and provides affirmation for pretty much all of his wishes, desires, and behaviors. since she doesn't describe herself, we don't know anything about her body language and her own behavior, but after a bit i got the impression that she was warm and smiling, that she didn't move much (except when dibs asked her to), and that she kept her attention riveted on dibs.
as dibs himself observes (he is such an fabulous patient; he notices everything and gives constant feedback and, i am pretty sure, gratification), there is nothing he cannot do in the playroom. this is fantastic for him and seems to be exactly what he needs. the only thing he cannot do is stay past his time, and this is something axline and dibs return to over and over. it's hard for dibs to leave, especially at first, when his situation at home is still extremely tense and hostile. but it's hard for him later, too. this specific therapeutic moment, the time when the session is over, is an extremely important one, crucial really, and i think that in a good therapeutic couple the loss is felt by both therapist and patient.
one thing dibs learns from axline is that losses are not permanent. he also learns that losses are harbingers of new gains and joys, often in pretty short order and in great abundance. it's a bit like waiting until dinner when you want a snack half an hour before the food is ready. by the end of the treatment, dibs adores the thought of thursday.
the way in which axline makes room for dibs is truly wonderful and the most shining lesson of this small book. i have thought about this and i believe the heart of this "making room" is total emptiness and total fullness, combined. the therapist empties herself of expectations, demands, or judgments (except for the very broad judgment that the patient is immensely interesting and lovable). in this process of self-emptying, though, the therapist becomes an extremely strong presence. it is (one of) the greatest miracles of humanness -- the more room we make for others, the more we empty ourselves of our own needs with respect to others, the more we grow in presence and impact. we become as insubstantial and irresistible as pure light.
now, this self-emptying can take place in all sorts of ways and contexts and with all sorts of gradations. the therapeutic setting is one in which this happens very intensely and to a very high degree (this is one of the reasons why therapeutic sessions typically last 50 minutes). there are other settings that are similar -- healing settings in which the "therapist" is not someone with a degree and a job. the idea is the same.
i think that what dibs feels, what blows him away, what makes him giddy with joy, is the loving space, the bright presence, the full emptiness he experiences with his miss A. he has never had that. experiencing it for the first time is dizzying to him. you can see the life being poured into him, and him drinking at it till he's sated. it's wonderful.
so, ultimately, this seems a book about how two people can meet and fall in love, and then, because one of these two people is a sad and hurt little boy, how one of them pours everything she ‘s got into healing him. there is, by the way, as far as i can see, no judgment from axline about the parents. the mother's visit with axline is wonderful. axline treats the mother the same way she treats dibs: she listens, takes her in, gives her space, passes no judgment at all, honors her pain and confusion, gives no advice.
in a really lovely passage little five-year-old dibs goes up to miss A and asks her: what are you? you are not a mom because i have my mom; you are not a teacher because i have my teachers. what are you?
axline echoes dibs' puzzlement rather than providing an answer (what would that answer be anyway?) and dibs happily moves on. i think this book is an answer to this question. what is a therapist? a therapist, a good therapist, is someone who delves into the dark with you, comes with you wherever you take her, sticks with you, and loves you madly. and she does this while being and staying herself, and human, and normal. (less)
this memoir is larger than life. lidia yuknavitch is larger than life. she is smart, funny, talented in about a thousand ways (she thinks the only thi...morethis memoir is larger than life. lidia yuknavitch is larger than life. she is smart, funny, talented in about a thousand ways (she thinks the only thing she does well is swim but of course that's ridiculous), and a barrelfull of life. she's got so much life in her, she had to use gargantuan amounts of booze, drugs, and sex to put it all to sleep. and still, she didn't manage.
as a writer, she might annoy you. some of the things she says here annoyed me. i got annoyed when she wholesale-dissed 'n ditched academia. i got annoyed when she told me how to heal. i got annoyed when she celebrated the written word, especially her relationship to the written word. she knows she knows how to write, if you see what i mean. and, in fact, she does know how to write. but it's annoying that she tells you, more than once.
but here's something else, something that's so important, it may be the most important thing about this book. people with deep trauma don't have anything. most of all, they don't have a self. they don't have a walking self, a biking self, a reading self, a writing self, a swimming self. for the longest time, all lidia yuknavitch had were 1. a swimming self and 2. a fucking-up self. the swimming may have saved her life. i mean, she puts it right in the title of her book, right? in fact, she puts it all over her book!
so take someone like this woman, so brutalized in infancy and childhood and adolescence that she was left only with these two barely serviceable selves. one of them built -- self-confidence, strength, life -- the other killed. you know which one won. yet, this woman managed at some point, in some way, miraculously, to pull herself out of the dark and the must and the not-life. if you think about that, if you spend even a minute thinking about that, you stop being annoyed at her book, because you know that this book is literally her life. it's like you hold this book, you hold her. this bragging woman, this larger-than-life woman, is also a very fragile woman.
i got my book through interlibrary loan. my university didn't have a copy and my public library didn't have a copy. WHAT! i'll return the book to the library and, on the same day, order it from my local bookstore. then, next semester or the one after that, i'll assign it to my class. i teach two kind of classes: classes about trauma and the construction of mental pain (aka "mental illness"), and queer studies class. this book works in both. if you are reading this, lidia yuknavitch (i hope you are not), 35 people will buy your book. 36 with me. some will buy it used from the big amazonian beast, so count on 20-25. not bad, huh?
but i'm sure i'm not the only one assigning this book in class. here are a few reasons:
* it's beautiful * it's as powerful as anything you've read * it doesn't pigeonhole/define/categorize anything: not sexuality, not child abuse, not incest, not addiction, not redemption, not marriage, not writing, not new lives (this is a major selling point for me, this freedom from pre-established narratives) * it's a fantastic read * it's beautifully, gorgeously queer * it's beautifully, gorgeously vulnerable and hurt and broken * it's beautifully, painfully honest * it's beautifully, achingly real (i wish i hadn't written achingly; so cliché)
i love this book. it's good storytelling, daring storytelling that mashes up race and gender and the politics of childhood in a really brave and inter...morei love this book. it's good storytelling, daring storytelling that mashes up race and gender and the politics of childhood in a really brave and interesting way. think, if you will, octavia butler's Fledgling. just like Fledgling, this book has caused a bit of an ethical/squeamish stir. i understand Fledgling's stir more than i understand Perfect Peace's stir. Fledgling has some serious squirm-inducing moment. Perfect Peace pushes buttons i apparently don't have. i don't care that daniel black decides to have a mother raise her boy as a girl. to me it's interesting. and even more interesting is seeing the outrage this is causing in some readers. as if fiction gave us outrageous stuff only rarely. are you kidding? just about everything in fiction is outrageous. but this deliberate crossing of gender paradigms seems to many a terrible, terrible literary act.
so let's this clear: the mother is fictional. the kid is fictional. no "boy" got really raised as a "girl" in the making of this book.
it is so fascinating to me that the entirety of perfect's gender identity resides in her penis. does she have it? and later, does he have it? there are two really great movies, XXY and Tomboy that also present children with ambiguous gender. in both movies The Question is "does she have it?" "does he have it?"
the penis is the center of gender identification.
which is interesting because perfect/paul says quite at the beginning that her/his penis is a small one, and, speaking as an adult, admits that it never got as big at that of his/her brother misterly (which he saw when he became a little boy and was forced to pee outdoors with the other boys, standing up). is a boy with a small penis less of a boy? is a boy with no penis not a boy? is a girl with a penis not a girl?
daniel black never solves the question of perfect/paul's sexual desire, which i thought is an excellent choice. the easy go-to explanation is that she/he's messed up. i prefer to think in terms of opportunity and fluidity. the kid who's a girl until 8-years-old and a boy thereafter gets to experience some pretty intense desires as an object of other people's desire. and then as a subject of her own desires, too. perfect/paul is allowed to like boys and like girls as a girl would. there is no pressure on her/him not to like boys "that way." her/his desires get to roam a bit -- at least to roam as much as girls' desires do. and once he becomes a boy those roamings don't stop, because why should they? they are mighty nice.
i am a tad shocked by the harshness of the punishment meted on emma jean, perfect/paul's mother. the community hates her. her family hates her. the reader hates her. i don't think daniel black hates her. i don't think he hates any of this book's complex, fascinating characters. they are all pretty amazing.
i think the book is worth reading if only for its exploration of the demands placed on a certain kind (black? jim-crow black? rural? christian?) of masculinity. the whole book can, in fact, be seen as just that, an exploration on the demands placed on men (all men?). but then again, it also spends some serious time on the demands placed on women, and both sets of demands are so terribly harsh, one wonders why on earth we came up with them in the first place.
i'm not really qualified to say much about race. daniel black chooses to set this in jim-crow arkansas (in an all-black community, so there are no scenes of cross-race humiliation but only your, you know, run of the mill poverty [ugh]) and to have the characters speak in dialect. i'm sure there's a lot to be said about this choices but nothing comes to mind right now. if people want to contribute, i'd be grateful. (less)
thought some people among my GR friends might be interested in this. the chapter on anais nin and colette are devastating and yet so, so good. haven't...morethought some people among my GR friends might be interested in this. the chapter on anais nin and colette are devastating and yet so, so good. haven't read it in a while, but maybe it's time to re-read. (less)