A second edition of Zambreno’s (Green Girl, 2014, etc.) 2010 debut novel takes its readers on a linguistic ride through an American family’s breaking point.
With a new introduction from Lidia Yuknavitch, Zambreno’s novel offers an unconventional kind of narrative. Structured in three distinct voices, the novel is composed and punctuated by its moments of narrative and linguistic crisis. Maggie, the depressive, self-harming, renegade daughter, permeates the book with a language of fear and rebellion (“Maggie wants nothing more than to be slapped around a little, she wants to be punished, she wants to be punished for her bad, bad, soul”). On the other hand, Mommy, the unstable and unfair mother, embodies a word bank of expectation and disappointment (“What does a psychologist do Mommy wonders? Except make trouble. Except blame everything on the Mommy, blame everything on the Mommy and Daddy, that’s what a psychologist does, and who needs a psychologist when you have Jesus?”). Zambreno has also strategically created the character of Malachi, who remains mysterious and existential throughout the book (“He takes out a match, on which is traced one of his stars, symbols. He sets fire onto his paper city”). To try and pin a storyline to this novel wouldn’t do it justice. Rather, it exposes the everyday life of most contemporary American families, except that day-to-day activities have been replaced with the semiotic. The novel does provide a reader with enough psychosocial reference points for one to identify with each character’s psychoses. For example, Maggie constantly questions her sexuality, and Mommy systematically wants to control everything about her and her daughter’s lives. These neuroses are not foreign to Americans living according to a national standard that was forced upon them by history and culture. Zambreno is a master at peeling off the denial and rubbing the reality of this time in our faces.
Linguistically enthralling, this is a novel that will surely make you orbit into the ineffable.