Books by Janet Kauffman

Released: May 1, 1997

Fifteen pieces from a veteran writer (The Body in Four Parts, 1993; Obscene Gestures for Women, 1989, etc.) that only sometimes get under the skin or into the heart. Kauffman gathers up symbols in a half-casual way so that they seem—whether they really do or not—to reverberate on a single theme. In ``Nightmares for Everybody,'' for example, two apparently gay boys and two adults watch a meteor shower—and one boy reveals that his unstable mother has written to him in her own menstrual blood. The same chance conjunction occurs in ``Girl Games,'' about one woman driving another into Detroit to visit her lover; the driver goes to read on the river front (``The words look like live things. . . . And put together, some of them even make sense''), where she has a Salinger-esque conversation with a little girl. Kauffman's seemingly effortless writerly skills are everywhere apparent, whether in sketches like ``The Ocean with Everything In It'' (a young man becomes obsessed with death), modernist exercises like ``Signed Away'' (surreal, Barthelme-inspired pages portray Emily Dickinson as a modern-day biker), or equally amusing group portraits like ``Baku's Theory'' (an ``immigrant support group'' is formed on the theory that ``It takes fifteen years to know where you are, and to know if it makes sense to be there''). At book's center is ``26 Acts in 26 Letters,'' a wildly inventive but exercise-bookish description of the sex lives of the alphabet (``At work, M's panties are streaked and sticky; N carries the Free Press with him to cover his erection''). Other love stories follow, as do more couples and more characters, including the eccentric Eureka of ``Eureka in Toledo, Weather Permitting,'' of whom the narrator says, arguably apropos of Kauffman, that ``She lurched through words, fell back, picked up a story somewhere else. She wasn't incoherent, but freewheeling, I would say.'' Skilled wordsmithing that's often brilliant, less often moving, and too often dusty in spite of itself. Read full book review >
THE BODY IN FOUR PARTS by Janet Kauffman
Released: April 16, 1993

Kauffman (Obscene Gestures for Women, etc.) has a mage's weakness for mysterious utterance, the goddess-persona, and a tendency to approach each of her slender, poetic but usually freighted works as though she's revising Ovid along feminist lines. Here, she plays with the conceit of multiple personalities to extend and simultaneously concentrate her mythologizing. Broken into the thematic elements of Water, Earth, Fire, and Air, Kauffman's ``story'' concerns a woman with an aquatic alter-ego named Dorothea (as well as a sub-alter-ego named Jonasine, adventuring femininely in the belly of the whale); two male counterpart-elements named Jean-Paul and Jack; and a fishmongeress best friend named Margaretta—with whom the narrator takes a car trip east. The trip makes up the only trail-able narrative element in this swoony mash of metamorphosis and stylistic self-indulgence, and hardly seems worth the effort: tepidly comic, recounted in secondhand flashback. Gender wisdom rather than narrative generosity seems the goal. Pretentious deluxe. Read full book review >