THE SKULL OF CHARLOTTE CORDAY by Leslie Dick

THE SKULL OF CHARLOTTE CORDAY

and Other Stories
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Forensic fiction about women who question everything. In this debut collection of nine linked stories, Dick (Kicking, 1993, etc.) explores what contemporary women want--and what holds them back from achieving happiness. As if to insist on the communal and yet discordant nature of the theme, her method is to build a collage of voices embedded in various narrative forms that range from unadorned, script-like dialogue through informal lists and studious notes to slightly more conventional first- and third-person storytelling. What's the point? Dick is taking apart literary symmetries in order to let in the mess of female pain, subterfuge, and conflict so that these seem actual and formative, not merely imagined. Readers have to be willing to work at the fiction here in order to come away rewarded. The mostly static title story leads off the collection by providing largely documentary evidence of the careers of Charlotte Corday (who murdered insurrectionary leader Marat during the French Revolution and was guillotined at the age of 24, in 1793) and of the psychoanalyst manquÇ Princess Marie Bonaparte, who is almost as iconoclastic as Corday--and is the owner, 150 years after Corday's death, of her skull. These two women, who appear nowhere else in the book, loom like models of feminine subversion over the modern women who people the tales that follow. These others (Jeanie, Carrie, Louise, Bette, Jo, Gina, Catherine, Lee) converge mostly to air their well-thought-out complaints about love, sex, parenting, and other mortal concerns. Dick's virtue is to make us question human experience and motive without giving us noticeable guidance or answers for our questions. The drawback of her approach is that it lets the writer off the hook--she sacrifices some of her authority as author for the cause of an experimental realism. It's almost as though Dick has written one book that asks each of us to rewrite it in our own terms. Participatory fiction for the heady and restless.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-684-83439-1
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1997