Books by Carol Muske-Dukes

Released: July 10, 2007

"Lovely, original writing on the unlikely romance between prisoners and poetry."
An elegant piece featuring a psychic descendant of Mark Twain. Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 20, 2002

"Narrow and uneven, but soaring in spurts."
Sixteen essays on the place of poetry in the cultural and physical landscape of Southern California. Read full book review >
LIFE AFTER DEATH by Carol Muske-Dukes
Released: June 19, 2001

"An intelligent, sometimes luminous take on a distressing subject."
Though her objectives are often transparent, Muske-Dukes's latest, if a bit macabre, is an affecting tale of a guilt-haunted man and woman who learn to accept the inevitable presence of death in life. Read full book review >
SAVING ST. GERM by Carol Muske-Dukes
Released: Feb. 1, 1993

A Los Angeles scientist hits upon a TOE (``Theory of Everything'') at the very moment her family needs her most—in a witty and sophisticated 90's-style drama by the poet and author of Dear Digby (1989). Eccentric, independent Esme Charbonneau has experienced the pleasures of intellectual success as a gifted child, a Harvard undergraduate, and the protÇgÇ of renowned chemist Kendall Quandahl. But since she's moved to L.A. to teach organic chemistry and splice genes at the male-dominated University of Greater California, Esme's satisfactions have steadily lessened. Having adjusted to the California culture, married a TV technical director who moonlights unsuccessfully as a stand-up comedian, and given birth to a daughter whose odd, metaphoric use of language causes doctors to suspect mental illness, Esme finds herself struggling in vain against what looks like mediocrity in her career, in her marriage, and as a mother. On top of this, Esme's abstract mind, which tends to dwell on such things as the chemical composition of lipstick when she's supposed to be interacting with another human being, has been distracted lately by hints of a connection uniting the concept of molecular ``handedness'' with the Big Bang—a sort of universal theory that she believes could make her famous. But the timing is all wrong: Esme's intellectual snobbery has caused a frat-like student to scheme against her; her insensitivity has caused her husband to move out; and her physical absence has left her beloved daughter prey to those who want to help but cannot understand her. As Esme reaches a climax in her theorizing, her personal life reaches a climax of disaster and life becomes a frantic juggling act—before she pins down her theory and discovers the tragic ways in which her daughter's strange behavior and her own forgotten past are intertwined. A sparkling, invigorating story, though the author's obvious preference for brilliant Esme over her doltish colleagues and stammering husband detracts from its effect. Read full book review >
DEAR DIGBY by Carol Muske-Dukes
Released: April 18, 1989

In her gently satiric first novel, poet Muske-Dukes pokes fun at feminism while implicitly reaffirming some of its basic principles. This sassy little comedy thrives on wisecracks and one-liners, and offers itself as something of a Miss Lonelyhearts for the liberated Eighties. Willis Jane Digby edits the letters column for the bimonthly Sisterhood magazine—a "cross between a feminist Time and a liberated Ladies' Home Journal with an all-woman staff serving a readership of five million." But reading through the thousands of letters, many of them truly loony, begins to weigh heavily on this unhappy Manhattanite. Fortunately, when she decides to enter the lives of her desperate correspondents, she suffers none of the tragic consequences endured by Nathaniel West's bleeding-heart columnist. Instead, she brings to her revamped letters page a scathing wit—now applied to the assorted Neanderthals who complain about the "bovine big-bottomed bourgeois bitches" at Sis, and whose self-incriminating screeds she begins to publish. The apparently crazy women who pour out their souls in the mail find in Willis a sympathetic ear—she herself is given to fits of goofiness (donning rabbit ears, running with the feminist pranksters of W.I.T.C.H.—for Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell—etc.). But it's one letter-writer in particular who proves to be Willis' savior: Iris Moss, a severely scarred and handicapped woman, writes from a state mental hospital, convinced she's being injected with "seminal fluids" nightly. Seeing through Iris' diagnosed paranoia and self-delusions, Willis tips off some reporters who eventually expose a pattern of sexual abuse at the institution. This revelation leads to much publicity for Willis, who's also being hounded by a persistent correspondent who signs himself "The Watcher" and who does indeed seem to be spying on her every move. The importance of some rather melodramatic and clichÇ-laden flashbacks becomes clear when The Watcher succeeds in rewriting Willis' life story—for the better. Despite the banal idea at its core—that insanity is relative—this nifty contrivance of a novel well embodies its anarchic spirit. Read full book review >