BETTER RED by Constance Coiner

BETTER RED

The Writing and Resistance of Tillie Olsen and Meridel Le Sueur
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A formal, leaden treatment that uses the lives and works of Olsen and Le Sueur to map the complex juncture of left-wing politics, second-wave feminism, and modern culture. Coiner inadvertently points out what is wrong with her book at the outset. Her interdisciplinary study of working-class writers Meridel Le Sueur and Tillie Olsen ``resides simultaneously in the provinces of history, literary theory, practical criticism, feminist theory, language theory and reading theory.'' Although she interviewed each woman twice while writing the book, Coiner's stiff style admits neither spirit nor spice into the lives she discusses. And these are women who ran with and up against the socialist intelligentsia in America at the moment of its greatest possibilities; women who first raised a still-relevant feminist critique of the radical left; women whose works, Coiner writes, ``fluctuated...between a full-volumed accord and muted dissent of the Party's positions on literature and `the woman question.' '' Olsen, the child of socialists reared on revolutionary journals such as the Liberator and the Comrade, had borne a daughter, contracted tuberculosis, completed the first three chapters of her famous novel Yonnondio, and published her acclaimed short story ``The Iron Throat,'' by the time she was 22. Le Sueur, born to middle-class parents in the Iowa heartland, joined the CP in 1927, the same year her first short story, ``Persephone,'' was published in the Dial. Widely known by the 1940s for her writing in popular magazines as well as literary journals, she, like Olsen, was a target of McCarthyite harassment in the 1950s. Neither such trials, nor family circumstances, nor the Party's intransigent sexism could stop these revolutionary writers from reaching in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for a proletarian art. Unfortunately, Coiner's scholastic structure smothers her rich material. Her book cries out to be written in a more fertile style.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-19-505695-7
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1995