John's Reviews > Bogeywoman

Bogeywoman by Jaimy Gordon
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Feb 26, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: american-novels-that-matter, american-thuggery, fiction-bruised-trembling, experimental-mastery, raw-hunks, thorny
Recommended to John by: I'd read her previous.
Recommended for: readers who long for a reawakening, in every sense
Read on January 01, 1999 , read count: 2? 3?

Jaimy Gordon lifted literary hearts all over these States when, after decades of inexplicable obscurity, she captured the 2010 Nat'l Book Award with her small-press novel LORD OF MISRULE. That title's indeed sexy & scary & more, but here on GR I'll single out her previous full-length narrative, BOGEYWOMAN. A prolonged & sensuous growl out of teenaged Ursie (bearlike, yes), the novel suffered cruel neglect when it appeared in '99, & yet though much of the book concerns Ursie's sojourn in the "bughouse" (a private asylum, outside Baltimore), the tale she spins winds up a mischievous & engaging combo of coming-out, coming-of-age, & coming-into-power. All this, in a story that does without the least shred of the merely cute. Our young narrator pays a steep price for being "a * Unbeknownst To Everybody," attracted to "girlgoyles" but not strong enough yet to express how she feels. Instead she carves up her arms & gets herself committed to the bughouse straight out of the one place she felt most at home, "Camp Chunkagunk, Tough Paradise for Girls." So too, she spends much of her hospital stay pining away in lust-love for Dr. Zuk, the spookiest of her "dreambox mechanics." Ursie's sublimations always break some rule or other, in episodes that border on the surreal, as the psych ward births a new-style camp camaraderie. There's wild music & kidnapping & finally, via perverse & delicious means, escape & transcendence to a bold though fragile maturity. But that's quite enough about character & plot, rich & nutty though they are. I can't delay any longer celebrating the novel's bumptious & resonating *language.* BOGEYWOMAN, from its title on throughout, is chockablock with American neologisms, or at least new word-combinations, & again & again these prove nothing short of enchanting. I've singled out a few above ("dreambox mechanics," whew), & I'll note that the book carries a blurb from the late, great Gilbert Sorrentino, raving about the "lavish & daring" prose -- & more than that, I've got to say that Gordon's verbal pyrotechnics never feel like showing off. Rather, what she's about here is the time-honored business of celebrating the natural world. She coins fresh linguistic equivalents for whatever catches Ursie's fancy, & in so doing reawakens the reader to all sorts of everyday miracles. There's the sound of your secret crush laughing: "cowbells bouncing down a glass staircase, that was her laughter." There are the pleasures of raccoon droppings: "the harlequin scat of that model omnivore -- fishbones, corn, a plug of purple finch feathers, all bound together and tinted with the rosy, seed-speckled pleasure of blackberry." In BOGEYWOMAN, Jaimy Gordon proves herself just such a model, & a master, supernaturally alive to "what a feast run amok the whole earth was."
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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John Hey, Tuck, thanks. Give the novel a look, if you can.


Alan haven't heard of her (terrible admission) - but I'll look her up now...thanks John


Alan ...ah she's not been 'released' in the UK yet but both the novels you mention are coming out in Sept 2011.


John Alan, thanks, & your trouble finding her work doesn't surprise me. She's been badly neglected over this way as well.


John Oh, & thanks for the "Likes," everyone.


Oriana Great review, John! I never knew anyone else who'd read this book, man I love this site. I absolutely must reread this now, thanks for the reminder!!


John Oriana, thanks a lot -- especially for going back to the BOGEYWOMAN herself.


Anne Misrule didn't appeal to me so I never read it, but I have started Bogeywoman and am utterly captivated. Your review is quite accurate in capturing what I think is special about this novel. Thanks!


John Anne, that's great to read. So glad I've helped someone else savor this underappreciated gem.


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