Laurel Beth's Reviews > After Claude

After Claude by Iris Owens
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's review
May 29, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: from-the-library, rpl
Read from July 12 to 14, 2012

Another book that could have been spoiled by the dust jacket, but I'm conscientious now. Don't know anything, be ignorant and let it all spill out across the pages.

I'm writing this on my phone from South Carolina. My phone suggests after "don't" I'll type "beget".

But the book jacket says, "At last, out of the chorus of wounded, depressed, and suffering female voices so frequently heard in our current 'women's books' comes the outraged and outrageous voice of Harriet."

First edition apologies. The author writes too much in the opening about how she hopes everyone who ever went to the Chelsea Hotel will forgive "the narrator's excesses regarding the celebrated New York City landmark." Even though she's not there more than 50 pages, and is hardly disparaging in context. The narrator hates everything with such gorgeous cognitive dissonance that it doesn't really matter if she thinks the Chelsea is a dump. It probably was. It definitely was.

For all the supposed agency, the heroine is still stuck behind men misunderstanding the feminist movement. By the end she's begging to be enveloped in a cult. Classically hippie, where free love comes at the exploitation of women's work. Men think, dream big, get high, raise a proverbial fist to the man while infantilized women scurry around picking up. Somebody has to howl at the moon, and somebody has to scrub clean the dirty footprints incurred, empty the ashtrays, repurpose the wine bottles. The greatest failing of the hippie generation wasn't that their ideals were unachievable, or temporal, or discarded with the spoils of buying in. No, it was the treatment of the women, the refusal of equality.

The book is nestled inside the discourse of 1973. Doesn't that sound so far removed from '69? Maybe the women were faltering, stuffed into the same obedient roles as their mothers. But they had the promise of transcendence.

Harriet is remarkable because of her refusal to see things as they are. Not in the Didion heroine way, where the women announce their intentions to distort. Harriet just does. It's the strength and restraint of the author just to trust the reader to see it. The book reveals all this. Never read a book jacket ever again.
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