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Lyrical and tricky: for serious readers.

In a memoir/essay collection, poet Mullen (Director, Creative Writing/Louisiana State Univ.; Enduring Freedom, 2012, etc.) explores emotional secrets and rupture.

The inability to pin down meaning in words reflects the slippery grasp of identity, and Mullen delves into “autobiography” in these brief, truncated sections, which are playful with language but often opaque. The entries evolve from the first sections’ dreamlike collision of the real (a car crash, a failed love affair) with the “completely unutterable” to a later essay called “Trust,” which explores with affecting frankness the author’s molestation at age 9 by her fencing instructor (“if I think of him his name comes back…immediately and easily: gliding up like air-filled buoys from an opaque and then translucent depth, flashing to the surface like markers for a wreck or trap, or floats from a storm-torn net”). In several pieces, Mullen reworks fairy tales by breaking down their narrative facets to create some intriguing new manifestations. In “Read,” she drastically tweaks “Little Red Riding Hood,” and we learn that Grandmother may have been sleeping with both the woodsman and the wolf (“well, we assume on different nights”). Fairy tales, she writes, often “lead us to normalize a situation both strange and potentially catastrophic.” In “Spectrograms (projected autobiography),” Mullen depicts the constant, arbitrary breakdown of projected images against memory and “strategies for containment.” The author’s deliberate structural interventions may be off-putting and arduous for many readers—e.g., in her essay on being “jilted” à la Miss Havisham, which is intended to relay the layers of unfathomable “complicated grief” therein. Yet in “Trust,” Mullen allows the memory of her shame at being violated by a trusted elder to unfold organically, later in life, juxtaposed with an attempt to heal by taking up fencing again, to marvelously poignant effect. Readers will relish such translucent moments in this prickly work.

Lyrical and tricky: for serious readers.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9844142-8-4

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Solid Objects

Review Posted Online: Aug. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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