Horace and the Death of a Professor

Google is a two-edged sword.  Sometimes the news is good, other times it depresses us.  And when we learn a friend or colleague of the older generation has died, it is painful.

Eleanor Winsor Leach

I was saddened to learn that Eleanor Winsor Leach, a classics professor at Indiana University, died last winter at the age of 80.  She was a Virgilian scholar whose graceful writing took my breath away.  She kept teaching till the very end, a Ms. Chips of the 21st century.  According to the IU newspaper, students loved her parties on Horace’s birthday (Dec. 8), at which time they also decorated her Christmas tree.

I tried to find a poem to celebrate her life and was deep into Horace’s Ode 2.XIV before I realized it was inappropriate.  Horace’s attitude to death is not comforting, not what I wanted to read after learning about her death alone in her house, found six days after her death.  But here goes anyway:  it is a tribute to Leach’s generation that we are still reading the Roman poets.  Here is my  translation:

This ode is addressed to a man named Postumus.

Ah, Postumus,
the fleeting years glide by, and piety will
not delay wrinkles, or
old age, or indomitable death;

Not if you sacrifice
three hundred bulls a day, my friend,
to pitiless Pluto, the god who confined
three-bodied monster Geron and Tityon

with the Stygian wave, the water certain for us all
who enjoy the gifts of Earth;
the waters must be crossed, whether
we are kings or poor farmers.

In vain we will escape bloody war
and the crashing waves of the Adriatic;
in vain we will fear the illness the South wind
brings in autumn.

We must behold the black wandering river
Cocytus, and Danaus’s infamous daughters,
and Sisyphus condemned to long labor,

The earth and home and your
lovely wife must be left, and none of the trees
you fostered will follow their short-lived master
except the hated cypresses.

A “worthier” heir will drink the Cacuban wine
you locked up with a hundred keys, and he will
stain the floor with unmixed wine
superior to that served at the haughty
banquets of priests.

What Does It Mean to Be Well-Read?

In a “Book Clinic” column at The Guardian, the critic Robert McCrum recently addressed the question, “What does it mean to be well-read?”  And he does not bow to pop fiction or internet poetry as he lays out the tenets of the canon.

He writes,

I’d suggest that three kinds of reading define the well-read mind. First, I’d want to include the immortals from the classics of Greece and Rome: Homer, Plato, Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Euripides, Virgil, Plutarch, Ovid, Juvenal and Sappho…

Next, from the Anglo-American literary tradition, we can’t forget Shakespeare, Milton, Donne, Byron, Austen, Keats, Dickens, Twain, Thoreau, Dickinson, Hawthorne, Melville, Whitman, Eliot, Pound, Auden, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Spark, Beckett, Woolf… and certainly another score of contemporary greats, including Baldwin, Pinter, Morrison, Miller, Bellow and Naipaul.

Finally, and this is where it gets contentious, there’s great writing in translation, from Proust, Freud, Fanon and Bulgakov to Grass, Márquez, Kundera and Levi.

I am always lost in a book, and the canon has powerfully affected my life, to the extent that I have lugged The Collected Poems of Adrienne Rich in a bike pannier and perused Virgil in coffeehouses.  But I do have a few criticisms of the list, as I do of all lists.  Why so heavy on the Greeks when Roman literature had the greater influence?  Let me add the readable Roman writers Apulieus, Suetonius, and Seneca.

McCrum has chosen a superb collection of Anglo-American writers, but he is light on “women’s work,” so let me recommend the Brontes, George Eliot, Elizabeth Bishop, and Caroline Gordon.

Judging from the translation category, he needs to read more in translation (I’m being flippant!  He’s well-read.).  But since the following are not on his short list, let’s add Machiavelli, Dante, Stendhal, Pushkin, Tolstoy, Flaubert…and somebody please add some women!

Yes, reading and rereading the canon shapes us and changes us.  What I love about this list is that the recommended classics are readable without academic intervention. (Perhaps there should be a Penguin “Well-Read” kit?)   But does being well-read mean different things to different people? Let me hazard that…

…for professional book reviewers, it means reading the latest books; and they must know, or feign to know, Karl Ove Knaussgard, Rachel Cusk, Jhumpa Lahiri, Julian Barnes, Marilynne Robinson, and perhaps, as their wild card, George R. R. Martin. (British male writers have lauded Martin in the Guardian, the LRB, and the TLS.)

…for university professors, it means reading the classics according to their narrow specialty, whether that is ancient Greek drama or modernist poets, as well as every book of criticism on the subject.

…for bloggers, it means writing emoticon-heavy blurbs about romance novels; long personal responses to  Victorian novels; short reviews of the soon-to-be-forgotten best books of the month; or even learned essays on, say, the influence of Péter Nádas on European literature.

We women writers and bloggers have much work to do now on important  issues like saving abortion rights and reversing global warming (there’s not much time left!), but,  in our free time, let’s add great women writers to the canon.

My Summer Reading Project: Which SF/Fantasy Epic Should I Read?

I do not read beach books in the summer, unless they are literally beach books:  I recommend the Odyssey, Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, Mary Stewart’s This Rough Magic, and Gail Godwin’s Grief Cottage.

For summer reading projects I prefer classics, the kind for which you need an introduction and footnotes.  One summer my husband and I read Juvenal’s satires (at a coffeehouse called Cafe Diem).  We pored over Roman phrases, trying to decipher the slangy meanings our Lewis and Short dictionaries were unprepared to reveal.  And we found a little of Juvenal’s obscenity goes a long way…

The summer we read Juvenal…

For six summers I comically tried to finish Hermann Broch’s novel, The Death of Virgil, a German classic which, via stream-of-consciousness, portrays Virgil’s dying.  I started it, abandoned it, and restarted it every summer… and after 100 pages I crossed it off my list as unreadable.  The sentences, which may be beautiful in German, go on for pages, Virgil grotesquely has an eye for the boys as he’s dying (one accompanies him from the ship to Augustus’s palace), and starting around page 100 Broch decides to arrange some clumsy sentences in verse. My guess is the lack of an introduction and footnotes is due to the unpopularity of the English translation.

Usually I enjoy my summer projects I loved The Histories of Herodotus, The Tale of Genji, and Durrell’s Alexandria quartet.

But this summer I am thinking of reading an SF/fantasy epic instead of a literary classic. Why?  Because I say SF is my preferred genre, and yet I’ve read remarkably little SF in the last few years.

Critics seem to be crazy about George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series.  At The Guardian John Mullan wrote,

Any connoisseur of narrative drive who crosses that divide will surely be caught up by the sheer energy and inventiveness of Martin’s multi-viewpoint story. His is a peculiarly unidealising variant of AU (alternative universe) fiction. In the land of Westeros, a chivalric yet brutal pre-industrial world, warring kinship groups struggle for power. In the adjacent land of Essos – more primitive, even more thoroughly Hobbesian – a young woman descended from the ancient rulers of Westeros plots and struggles to lay claim to the land from which she is exiled. JRR Tolkien, who may not have invented AU fantasy but certainly was its most influential exemplar, gave weight to his imagined world with invented languages, legends, genealogies, poetry. Martin provides some of this, but devotes most of his energies to convincing the reader of the entirely human fears and ambitions of his leading characters. Tolkien gave us hobbits, orcs, elves and dwarves. Martin deals in men and women.

I am a “connoisseur of literary drive,” but there are 5,216 pages in the series.  Perhaps I don’t have to read all the books?

Should I read Ursula K. Le Guin’s Hainish novels, available in two Library of America volumes? But do I want to immerse myself in the Hainish cycle?  Some are great (The Left Hand of Darkness), some are mediocre (The Word for World Is Forest).  I have read a lot of Le Guin over the years.

How about Frank Herbert’s Dune series?  But I’ve heard the series went downhill after the first book (which I loved and wrote about here)… and then there are so many in the series, several written by someone else.

And  C. J. Cherryh?  I read her stunning, angst-ridden novel, Downbelow Station.  (and wrote about it here).  One of the best SF books I’ve ever read.  But she has written so much–a novel a year, I think.  Where do I start?

Please recommend your favorite SF and fantasies!

The Old Wives’ Tale by Arnold Bennett

I love the novels of Arnold Bennett, one of the most prolific and enjoyable writers of the early twentieth century. Does anyone read Bennett?  Only five of his books are in print, Clayhanger, Anna of the Five Towns, The Old Wives’ Tale, The Card, and Grand Babylon Hotel.   I try to read a Bennett novel every year: a few years ago I made my way through the Clayhanger trilogy, set in the Five Towns, which are based on the six towns in the Potteries district of Staffordshire, where Bennett grew up; and then Anna of the Five Towns, a novel about the daughter of a miser-factory owner.

But the best by far is The Old Wives’ Tale, published in 1908.  I have now added it to my Favorites of All Time list.  It is reminiscent of  Balzac’s realistic novels, with their interweaving of character studies, the mundane details of life and work, and the panorama of historical events:  in The Old Wives’ Tale, the action is concurrent with the Great Exhibition, the Siege of Paris, the Dreyfus Affair,  and the Federation in the Potteries.  John Wain writes in the  introduction to the Penguin edition: “It is one of the most successful attempts, if not the most successful, to rival in English the achievement of the French realistic novel from Balzac down to Flaubert, Zola, and Maupassant.”

Bennett’s tour de force centers on two sisters, Constance, who inherits the family drapery shop in Bursely (one of the Five Towns), and Sophia, who moves to Paris and first runs a boarding house and then a hotel.  It begins in the 1860s, and follows the lives of the Baines sisters from their teens till death.  Bennett brilliantly divides the book into four different chronological tales, beginning with the sisters’ roots in Book I,  called “Mrs. Baines” (who is their mother); Book II, “Constance,” and Book III, “Sophia,” detail  their work and relationships through middle age;  and Book IV, “What Life Is,” their old age and deaths.

The two sisters are completely unlike:  Constance, the conventional sister, doesn’t mind smoky Bursley, home of pottery factories, and finds it a pleasure to work in the shop.   But restless, pretty Sophia becomes a teacher (which is a step down from trade, in her mother’s eyes), and is successful at the local school until she develops a crush on a flashy traveling salesman, Gerald Scales. Then she foolishly quits her job and goes to work in the shop on the chance of seeing him.  She runs away with him to Paris.  And so the sisters are separated, one in Bursley, one in Paris.  And their worlds could not be more different.

In Book II, Bennett describes Contance’s life in Bursley, which is often monotonous, but with the rewards of marriage and family.  As a young woman, Constance and Mr. Povey (Samuel), the manager, become friends and shyly fall in love.  Samuel’s innovations at the shop seem lower-class to Mrs. Baines:  first he puts up a sign–even Constance thinks that’s going too far–and then, with Constance’s help, organizes a sale (never done before!), and they write out the fancy sale tickets together.  Mrs. Baines objects to their marriage at first, but  yields, mainly because she needs Samuel to manage the shop.  And so Mrs. Baines leaves the house and business to Constance and Samuel.  And how does Constance feel about the routine?  Bennett describes her security beautifully.

Was Constance happy? Of course there was always something on her mind, something that had to be dealt with, either in the shop or in the house, something to employ all the skill and experience which she had acquired. Her life had much in it of laborious tedium–tedium never-ending and monotonous. And both she and Samuel worked consistently hard, rising early, ‘pushing forward,’ as the phrase ran, and going to bed early from sheer fatigue; week after week and month after month as season changed imperceptibly into season. In June and July it would happen to them occasionally to retire before the last silver of dusk was out of the sky. They would lie in bed and talk placidly of their daily affairs. There would be a noise in the street below. “Vaults closing!” Samuel would say, and yawn. “Yes, it’s quite late,” Constance would say. And the Swiss clock would rapidly strike eleven on its coil of resonant wire….

But life takes a strange turn–Samuel’s brother is accused of murdering his wife (it was an accident), and after he is hanged, Samuel’s cold turns into pneumonia, and he dies. Constance loves their son Cyril dearly, but he is out of control after his father’s death, and she finally admits to herself that he is not a good son.

Is Sophia’s life better in Paris? Not at all–her husband Gerald is a rake and a spendthrift, and exposes her to horrors that no Baines woman should live through–and yet she won’t go home.  She sees Gerald’s ghoulish morbidity when he insists on traveling to see the execution of a man. Although Sophia stays in the hotel, hundreds of people sit on roofs or hangout windows of the hotels to see the execution.  Sophia, too, sees everything.  And she understands she has married a coarse man.

There are other parallels between the sisters’ lives. Sophia, too, succeeds in business.  After Gerald leaves her, she  becomes the landlady of a boarding house (formerly run by a prostitute), and later she buys  a hotel. She is busy from dawn to dusk, doing much of the work and cooking herself, and even becomes a bit of a miser.

What a remarkable novel!  Honestly, one of the best I’ve read this year.

Eight “Review-ettes” & A Break from Reading Professional Reviews

The best books of the year you never got around to reading.

I love book reviews.  My fandom commenced in the 1970s when I bought the Sunday Chicago Tribune at a local drugstore and discovered the review section.  After reading fascinating reviews of new books by Raymond Carver, Margaret Atwood, Margaret Drabble, and Philip Roth, I rushed to a bookstore.

It didn’t stop with Chicago. Oh, no, there were more. The New York Times Book Review was for decades the most accessible review publication in the U.S., and the first thing I read on Sundays.  There have, however, been changes lately, including the consolidation of the Sunday book review and the daily book critics under one editor. Two of the daily critics resigned last year.  Lack of continuity is a bad sign.  And the paper now runs reviews of romances.  Will dumbing down net more readers?  I doubt it.

Now, with the internet, we have many choices.  We can read dozens of reviews online at American newspapers–that is, at the few that still publish them.

Reading reviews online gets very expensive, though.  The New York Times allows you to read 10 free articles, and The Washington Post 20, and then you subscribe for $120 a year.  (You can, of course, subscribe for just a  month.)  The L.A. Times allows five free articles, and nothing is free at The Wall Street Journal.

Book review publications need subscribers, and I want to support them. But (a) I can’t afford to read all these publications, and (b) there are too many new books. So I’m taking a break from reading professional reviews.  For a month?  Two months?

Meanwhile, here are “review-ettes” of eight new, or newish, books I’ve read this year, all of which I learned about from book reviews. (Some I’ve written about before.)

  1. Rachel Cusk’s Outline.  A nonfiction novel about a writer at a writers’ conference in Greece and her conversations with others about life and art.  Stunning prose, but a little empty.  * * * * *
  2. Mary Gordon’s There Your Heart LiesA double narrative, partly set in Spain in the late ’30s and the ’40s, and partly in Rhode Island in 2009.  After Marian’s gay brother commits suicide in the 1930s, she  marries her brother’s lover and accompanies him to work in a hospital during the Spanish Civil War. Gordon alternates chapters about life in Spain with her retelling of  the story to her granddaughter.    * * * * *
  3. Will Boast’s Daphne.  An awkward retelling of the Daphne myth.  Daphne, the narrator, is a successful professional woman with a rare disease which causes her to collapse whenever she feels strong emotion. And her boyfriend Olli does not resemble Apollo in the slightest, but as he was the only possible stand-in for the god, I tried to make it work–in vain.  Not a bad read, but Y.A-ish. **
  4. No Time to Spare by Ursula K. Le Guin.  A collection of essays from the award-winning science fiction writer’s blog, some very effective.  I admired “The Sissy Strikes Back,” an essay about the realities of aging, and her posts about her cat! ****
  5. Sigrid Nunez’s The Friend.  This slim novel is essentially a minimalist essay on the suicide of the narrator’s best friend and the consequences of inheriting his Great Dane.  **
  6. Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion.  A best-selling novel about feminism and sexual harassment. It is far from Wolitzer’s best (The Interestings), but it is said to be THE book of the year. ***
  7. Joan Silber’s Improvement. An award-winning collection of linked stories which I thoroughly enjoyed and wrote about here****
  8. Janet Fitch’s The Revolution of Marina M.  A brilliant historical novel about a poet during the Russian revolution.  Thoroughly entertaining. Six stars out of five as the most enjoyable book of the year! ******
  9. Melissa Broder’s The Pisces.  A Sappho scholar falls in love with a merman, after going on an online dating spree and falling into depression. *****

And that’s enough new books for now.

Patriarchy or Paranoia? When Women’s Best Writing Is Suppressed

The Penguin hardcover edition of Villette.

Charlotte Bronte’s brilliant novel, Villette, is not as popular as Jane Eyre, the Gothic romance we all loved as girls.  More complicated and brutally realistic than Jane Eyre, Villette is a classic for adults, a feminist anti-romance with Gothic elements, ghosts, surveillance, unrequited love, and even drugs.  The narrator, Lucy Snowe, is Jane Eyre’s doppelgänger,  a plain, nearly invisible young woman who does not “get the guy” though she becomes a respected professional.

Like many impoverished 19th-century women, Lucy must work rather than marry, though she has no qualifications to earn a good living.  She finds a position as a companion, and when her employer dies, decides to take her chances in a foreign country:  she travels to Belgium.  By leaving England for Brussels (known as Villette in the novel), she has the opportunity to succeed on different terms:  serendipity leads her to a boarding school where she becomes a successful English teacher.  In this alien Catholic culture, Lucy is able to construct a strong, independent personality that, we surmise, would have been impossible in England.

I’ve mentioned Villette often here as one of my favorite books, most recently  in 2015, but have never blogged about it at length:  I know it too well, I love it too much.

But I was fascinated to read about Villette  recently in an excerpt from Joanna Russ’s book, How to Suppress Women’s Writing, at Literary Hub: she cited it as a book suppressed by the patriarchy.

Russ’s premise is that, by promoting a single novel by a woman writer as her “best, ” i.e., Jane Eyre in Bronte’s case, which Russ considers “less good,” and keeping the others out-of-print,  publishers persuade readers  that the output of great books by women is tiny, and that great women writers manage only one worthwhile book or poem.  The sexist society wants to suppress anything subversive.  Does this sound paranoid?  Well, perhaps.

Russ writes,

In about 1971 I was teaching Charlotte Brontë in a women’s studies course and decided to use her Villette instead of Jane Eyre. The number of different publishers who have in print different paperback editions of Jane Eyre I know not; I found several editions in the bookstore of my university (and one more, a year later, in the “Gothic” section of the local supermarket). But there was not one edition of Villette in print in the United States, whether in paperback or hardcover, and I finally had to order the book (in hardcover, too expensive for class use) from England. (The only university library editions of Villette or Shirley I could find at that time were the old Tauchnitz editions: tiny type and no leading.)

But I wondered if Russ had her dates right, because in the 1960s I found a hardcover copy of Villette  at the public library–not a university library.  Then my aunt gave me a used paperback copy.  And in 1974 I bought a Penguin of Shirley (it’s in my journal!). So was there a long or short gap when these books were out-of-print? I would really need dates, not anecdotal evidence.   If these books were out-of-print, one can only suppose that publishers raced to reissue them  when the growth of Women’s Studies departments assured sales.

Russ, best-known for her SF novel, The Female Man (which I think is very dated), has a radical Second Wave feminist outlook, based on the belief that the patriarchal publishers deliberately suppressed certain women’s books.  She writes,

I think it no accident that the myth of the isolated achievement so often promotes women writers’ less good work as their best work. For example, Jane Eyre exists, as of this writing, on the graduate reading list of the Department of English at the University of Washington. (This is the only PhD reading list to which I have access at the moment. I mention it not as a horrid example, but because it is respectable, substantial, and probably typical of first-rate institutions across this country.) Villette does not appear on the list. How could it? Jane Eyre is a love story and women ought to write love stories; Villette, “a book too subversive to be popular,” is described by Kate Millett as “one long meditation on a prison break.”

Wow, I love Kate Millett’s description!  But do I believe the omission of Villette from the Ph.D. lists was deliberate suppression?  No, I do not.

Men dominated English departments then.  Men doubtless didn’t read Bronte much.  Charlotte was a woman; why should they read her?  That was probably the sexist attitude.  They probably hadn’t even read Jane Eyre, just knew the title. Hence the need for women’s studies classes.  Or not even women’s studies, just women at the university!

Women dominate publishing today, or so I’ve read:  is that why Villette is in print? Did men or women dominate publishing in the ’60s and ’70s?  Again, I don’t know whether Russ’s theories apply.  Was she paranoid, or was it patriarchy behind it?

As for the patriarchy wanting to promote love stories so women subordinate everything to love…  it sounds paranoid, but it is possible.  Today book review publications edited by  men and women are reviewing romance novels. I find that disturbing.  Does that prove Russ’s theory?

Honestly, I would be more likely to reread Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics than read Russ’s book, but I do laud University of Texas Press for reissuing this.  But there was, and is, a lot of  criticism written by people with political agenda and insufficient data.  My attitude: proceed with caution.

In Love with a Merman: The Pisces by Melissa Broder

Melissa Broder is a poet and essayist, and her first novel, The Pisces, is the best new book I’ve read this year.

I flew through this brilliant, witty, harrowing, and occasionally satiric novel.  The narrator, Lucy, a Sappho scholar, falls in love with a merman, but this is no charming fairy tale:  it is a myth about sex, power, and masochism.  At the beginning, 38-year-old Lucy has moved from Arizona to  Venice, CA, to house-sit for her sister.  Having broken up with her smart, once sexy (now plump) boyfriend, a documentary maker, Lucy is devastated.

She has wry, if dejected, insights into her life in Arizona, where she had it semi-together for a while.  For nine years she worked at a university library and collected a yearly $25,000 stipend to write a doctoral thesis on Sappho.  But the committee has given her a September deadline, and her future is tenuous.  She hasn’t worked very hard on the thesis, which she says is garbage:  a reading of the “vast number of erasures in Sappho’s work as intentional,” even though “they were created by the passage of time and dirt since 600 BCE.”

Her interest in the gaps in Sappho reflects the frightening emptiness of her own life.

I, myself, had a very complicated relationship with emptiness, blankness, nothingness. Sometimes I wanted only to fill it, frightened that if I didn’t it would eat me alive or kill me. But sometimes I longed for total annihilation in it—a beautiful, silent erasure. A desire to be vanished. And so I was most guilty of all in projecting an agenda. I knew it, which was why I had not really pressed ahead. I wasn’t sure if my advisory committee knew it. But I was about to be cut off and I figured that a shitty book was probably better than no book at all. So I continued to trudge, not wanting to quit and get a “real” job, not really knowing what I could do anyway.

Will she start a new life in Venice? Lucy loves the sea and her sister’s dog but hates the rich tourists and the gentrification.  Her only human contact is with the eccentric, obsessive women in her therapy group.  Then she begins to date men she meets through online dating services.   In preparation for one date, she has her pubic hair waxed, which results in burned and reddened labia; then she spends $450 on lingerie.  When she shows up at the hotel wearing a trenchcoat over her lingerie, her date doesn’t even rent a room.  Lucy submits to him in a very unsexy scene in one of the hotel’s luxurious restrooms.  And though she feels sore and raw afterwards, she wonders why  he doesn’t text her?  And she contracts a urinary tract infection.

Broder is often satiric, but it is harrowing to see Lucy fall into sexual addiction.  She goes where no sane woman should, or, in my opinion, would go.  When she meets Theo, a merman, we hope for the best, and she does begin to write creatively about Sappho, far more perceptively than she had in her academic thesis.  But is it healthy to date a sea creature?

She asks Theo if mermen are really sirens. He says,

“…I mean, we aren’t like the Siren myths and stuff. It’s not like we are trying to kill humans or keep them imprisoned on an island. We aren’t like the way they are in The Odyssey. Homer slandered us. But we do live a long, long time. Youthfully. Hundreds of years. We spend most of them looking like we are in our late teens and early twenties. I think it’s the saltwater. It preserves us in some way.”

It’s witty, but I kept thinking, Lucy, watch out!  And she doesn’t completely lose it, though she goes very, very far.

I have one general criticism of this and a few other  literary novels I’ve read by young women in the two years:  the heroines are so passive and powerless, so incapable of making a life for themselves.  I’ll make a wild generalization and say that this is not the case in popular fiction or  historical novels.  Most recently, I’ve admired Janet Fitch’s The Revolution of Marina M., a novel about a woman poet during the Russian Revolution.

Like Broder’s brilliant novel, Emma Kline’s The Girls and Natasha Stagg’s Surveys portray a lost generation of wispy women who are passive and powerless, ready to submit to any men.  May I recommend a good dose of Doris Lessing’s Martha Quest (the Children of Violence series) or Gail Godwin’s Jane Clifford (The Odd Woman) before they write their next books?

And I will end this post with a fragment of a poem by Sappho, my translation of Poem 34.

The stars around the beautiful moon
hide their radiant form
when the full moon brightly shines
on the earth.

N.B.  Many translations of this poem end with the phrase”with silver,” but the word “silver” does not occur in the Greek text I used.

Quotation of the Week from “The Pisces” by Melissa Broder

Melissa Broder is a poet and essayist, and her lyrical new novel, The Pisces, is by far the best new book I’ve read this year.  The premise: Lucy, a Sappho scholar, can’t finish her dissertation, breaks up with her boyfriend in Arizona, and moves to Venice Beach to house-sit for her sister.  She tries online dating and makes unwise decisions. And yet she can’t stop obsessing about these men.

Then one day at the beach, she falls in love with a merman.

Here’s a quote:

“I’m on the pill,” I said.  “We don’t need to use anything.”

Then I started laughing at the absurdity of everything.  Was I really talking about birth control with a merman?

Is the merman real or is she psychotic?  Well, I’m not quite finished with this post-post-modern witty novel, but I will say that Lucy attends a sad, funny therapy group for women with sexual obsessions.  A merman might be the answer…though probably not…

The novel is smart, sad, comical, and witty.  More later!