I spent a week this November mourning a man I never met. My notebook, those days, reads seismographically with the pits and spikes of my underkept grief. November 13, afternoon in the coffee shop—Just learned that Jack Gilbert has died at 87 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. I want to cry or scream or live him again, put him back in my body. And then I can’t breathe. The long black hair tangled in the dirt.
In the fields of northwest New York, Lauren Groff’s Arcadia grows, an epic fable starring Bit, aka Our Littlest Bit of a Hippie, aka Ridley Sorrel Stone, the gentle, introspective first child of a utopian community, with a sponge-heart and watcher eyes. Arcadia made me cry several times, which is extremely rare for me. The last book I remember crying over before this one was The Bluest Eye, as a pre-teen, lying on my back in bed, letting the tears soak into my hair.
I write in Heroines: ‘The disgust for Anaïs Nin is the disgust for the girls with their Livejournal.’ I think that still holds true. The existential crisis of Ophelia, as opposed to Hamlet, is not seen as heroic. With fiction, the works of women are often over-interpreted as autobiography, especially when the main character is a woman, especially if she is seen as privileged. With Jennifer Egan, and Zadie Smith, I would counter that they are exceptions, seen as great literature, because they write women and men—they write a panoply of characters, this seemingly entirely fictionalized and androgynous world, which even Woolf held up as the truly transcendent fiction. I think the female first-person is still dismissed, demonized, especially if the book does not end on an empowering note, especially if the main character is perceived as unlikeable, or too privileged.
When I finished Dancing in Odessa, having read it in one little gasping string of sheet, it was 3AM in August. I didn’t know what to do but stay awake and let the hunger seep honey-wise; wanted to keep that feeling in the night, as I’d read it, belly-bruising and behind my eyes. I wanted dawn to come before I had stopped whirring. It was being socked with love, socketed, electric, down my tailbone and knees over and over like gathered horsehair brushing. As he writes, “It feels like burning / and singing about burning.”