My mother kept secrets and spoke to me in a kind of code. Nothing was straightforward. From childhood, I had to figure out how to read her mind, to intuit the contours of her reality. If I developed empathy, at first, it wasn’t so much a way to find a connection as a survival strategy. (xx)
Secrets, taboo topics, and mystifying family tensions set the stage for Sherry Turkle’s memoir, The Empathy Diaries. Her memoir is a transformational journey from an anxiety-infused childhood to an adulthood devoted to psychological insight and excellence in scholarship. Turkle is the Abby Rockefeller Professor of Social Studies, Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Her highly regarded books, especially Reclaiming the Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age and Alone Together, probe the psycho-social impact of the digital world.
The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary by NoNieqa Ramos (Carolrhoda Lab 2019)
Reviewed by Kathryn Leonard-Peck
In this hybrid review, Leonard-Peck combines poetry and critical reading to map the emotional landscape of this stunning YA novel, which as a 2019 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Selection and a 2018 New York Public Library Best Book for Teens. For more reviews that challenge the form, click here.
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again,” starts Daphne du Maurier’s gothic classic, drawing readers into the privileged life of the de Winters and the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of Maxim de Winter’s first wife, Rebecca (1). Mrs. de Winter, Maxim’s second wife, serves as our eyes as we learn about the house’s inhabitants and customs, unraveling the multiple sides of Manderley and all its occupants. This is especially apparent in the novel’s titular character, Rebecca, although she never appears on the page herself. Rebecca’s larger-than-life presence casts a unique shadow upon each person she encounters. The people who survive Rebecca carry her memories and shape her legacy, not unlike some of history’s famous and forgotten women. As Mrs. de Winter searches for Rebecca’s truth, we begin to understand the impossibility of knowing a person, particularly, a woman, through the many layers of gossip, history, and bias.
In Midwest Gothic, her second collection of poetry, Laura Donnelly channels a speaker alternatively fascinated and fearful, youthful and wise, steadfast and skeptical. Through a rough yet rich expanse of memory and history, she seeks to both recover and reframe her past, a process as ominous as it is life-affirming. In doing so, Donnelly honors the resilience, creativity and legacy of her female ancestors, especially their ability to nourish a place into being, to maintain a home that not only withstands what is wild but welcomes it. As a revision to the ubiquitous patriarchal narratives the young speaker was exposed to, Donnelly posits women not just as the keepers and growers of an eternal garden, but also, subverting many Gothic tales, as the heroines of their own stories.Throughout the collection, we feel a complexity of emotions that is as unsettling as it is alluring, each poem a musical note that resounds into the vastness of history, building on previous notes, and both haunting and uplifting what’s to come.
Sarah Shun-lien Bynum is all grown up. In what may seem like a departure from her trademark whimsy, Likes, a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize for Fiction, is a collection of nine stories, mostly grounded in reality, that dwell in the concerns of mid-career professionals, their affairs, infertility and child-rearing. The O’Henry Award winning story, “Julia and Sunny,” for example, laments the disintegrating marriage of a perfect couple.
It is quite drizzly on this 2nd of July–the perfect day to deliver our next batch of micro reviews for your reading pleasure.
This month, we are bringing you four “true stories” that defy convention, and play with the idea of what it means to write about reality. We have a book of poems that take language from someone else’s diary to tell a new kind of truth. Auto-fiction, which uses fiction as a vehicle to explore a very real autobiography. A hybrid essay-poem that plays with space to portray family truths lost to history. And a book of essays that doesn’t shy away from the ugliest, strangest, funniest parts of what it means to be human.
We hope our picks this month inspire you, and give you space to ponder what it means to tell the truth.
Erotic, synesthetic, nebulous, rebellious, sensual, haunting: these words continuously ran through my mind as I tried to integrate the radically clever and wild movement of Alexa Doran’s debut collection, DM Me, Mother Darling.
How do I say it other than this: the work is amalgamous and full of pain—effervescent, shifting shape, shedding over and over like a snake whose skin has never fit. Doran amorphously circles and strikes at the tensions of motherhood, sex, grief, drugs, God, judgement, resilience, sickness, instincts, and grit as she tries, repeatedly, to convince us “to believe [that] love is / obscene” (25).
The Rest Cure for women with “nervous conditions” in the 1880s yanked depressed women away from their homes, families, and friends for months of bed rest. Assuming women to be the weaker, more fragile, and hysterical sex, incapable of coping when stressed, the Rest Cure removed all socialization and stimulation. Strict rules governed each day: banning pens and writing paper, music-playing, sewing, and daily tasks of any sort. Nannies assumed all childcare.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in her 1892 short story The Yellow Wallpaper, chronicles the torment induced by a Rest Cure prescribed for a nameless female narrator. In this early classic of the feminist canon, the narrator falls into a depression after giving birth to her first child. Her husband, John, a doctor of good repute, takes charge of her so-called case, devises a Rest Cure, and rents a rural country home with high walls for a three-month stay.
History is written as much by the victors as it is by its witnesses. Witnesses are often responsible for giving voice to the unrecorded events and marginalized factions that history textbooks tend to gloss over. Poet Carolyn Forche served as one such witness to the beginnings of the Civil War in El Salvador, bearing witness to both atrocities and small glimmers of hope.