FETISH LIVES by Gail Jones


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A debut collection(winner of the 1997 Western Australian Premier’s Book of the Year Award) that sneaks a sidelong view of history as the true and only drama left to us moderns. Most of the real-life characters here are famous, but the 12 stories that Jones invents for them will surprise readers who think they—ve heard it all before. Madame Tussaud and Elvis Presley, Walt Whitman and Anton Chekhov, Karl Marx’s daughter—all are pulled out of the confines of mere biography and kneaded into a postmodern dough that rises with the yeast of invention. Thus, we find Eleanor Marx dying slowly while slaving over her translation of Madame Bovary, whereas Anton Chekhov falls quietly in love with a Ceylonese servant girl (whom he leaves but never manages to forget). The “fetish” of the title quickly reveals itself as an obsession, shared by all the principal characters, for some minor object, event, or person whose importance swells into a consuming passion. In “The Veil,” a member of the firing squad that executes Mata Hari receives a last seductive glance from the femme fatale just at the moment that he pulls the trigger, and thereby becomes the condemned woman’s final victim. In “Queenie the Wordless,” a working-class Australian girl, convinced she is an heir to the British throne, is struck dumb while listening to Queen Elizabeth’s Christmas broadcast. And in “Touch,” the homosexual Walt Whitman is transformed into a kind of literary paterfamilias after haunting various artists who lived after him, from van Gogh to Kafka to Isadora Duncan. Fascinating and marvelously fluid, though occasional lapses into pomposity (—How many landmines, after all, have confiscated how many souls? What is it that returns to earth in such bloodied bits and pieces?”) threaten to ditch Jones into an academic gutter. Fortunately, she always pulls out in time.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8076-1440-8
Page count: 178pp
Publisher: Braziller
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1998


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