Prose Toad Literary Blog

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Deborah Batterman's, Shoes Hair Nails Review by Kim Rush

Artifacts, Relationships, and Universal Human Value

Joseph Campbell offers, in his interpretation of James Joyce’s concept of proper art, that proper art is a static moment that dissipates one’s ego into that aesthetic enchanting experience. Deborah Batterman achieves this for the audience in her new book of short stories, Shoes Hair Nails.

In a fata morgana effectual story telling structure, Batterman, by an expository, essayistic prose style, carries the reader via the first person female narrative voice through normal, everyday events bound together by simple human artifacts as leitmofifs that also title her stories. These artifacts and perspectives--female in character, as represented by the book’s title, go beyond their simplicity to achieve an universal human value for all readers. The values of love, suffering, desire, and such, are bound together by a masterful median thread of the artifacts themselves--as exemplified in “”Shoes” where a collage of personal connections with shoes quick-steps the reader to the story’s painful ending.

This thread concept works as a foundational connection cord to the tapestry of imagery and human experience expressed in the whole of the book. Batterman, however, adapts the plot structure of each story to enhance each story’s theme. These various patterns of progression move the rising tension in a subtle and unique way to enhance the story, its theme, and movement to the unexpected climax.

With minimal description of the main character of each story, Batterman still presents a main character that the reader perceives through his/her transactional connection to the story, as a well rounded, familiar character.

For the male reader who may be unwilling to go beyond the female title motif, do not fear, for Batterman follows the Aristotelian golden mean—finding the middle between two opposing sides, male, female perspectives, to achieve a fully respected and enjoyed universal human value commonality of human life.

Yuri Lotman said that, “Art is the language of life.” In Licentia Poetica--the freedom of expression of art, the artist is free to express whatever he/she wants in an artistic stylistic form. Batterman joins Lotman’s language of life into her artistic female fiction perspective and gives to her readers an assortment of stories that leave the reader thinking beyond each story’s conclusion. To be successful in this manner, for a writer, is the highest compliment to be given. Batterman offers in her Licentia Poetica a fine story collection achieving Lotman’s and Joyce’s concept of true art.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep

I heard about Prep by way of Arts Journal, Terry Teachout’s blog. I thought, gad another tiresome J D Salinger tome, this time written by a young woman. Oh no! Chick Lit! Before going into full bodice buster alert, I read what Terry had to say, putting the book on my list. Three months later I read and guess what? I loved Prep, and Curtis Sittenfeld, now a thirty-something I think, has written a fine book. She’s the new Jane Austen. Austen's country gentry morph into rich American High School kids. Curtis’s alter ego, Lee Fiora has wrestled a scholarship to a fancy private school on the East Coast. She thinks it’ll be really cool, but maybe she should have attended an Indiana high school and partied with her true peers. The rich aren’t like you and me said an author once.

So overachieving Lee at fourteen is overwhelmed immediately without mom and dad for a prop up. The kids are smart, rich and savvy, and they seem to have a cultural code written in invisible ink. Snafu after awkward embarrassment befalls our heroine and she is beaten down into a sniveling cracker eater. For the next four years, she over-analyzes every social move to the point of teen paralysis. In less weighty hands than Ms. Sittenfeld, Lee would be considered a boring navel gazer which is a step or two lower than a senseless slacker, but her gazing is so insightful and clever, though often wrong-headed, we wonder if her logic would overcome Socrates.

The title brings to mind the young adult market, but Prep is not for kids. You can put an R rating in those argyle socks, because Lee is so passive, the local heartthrob can pretty much write his own ticket on her ass. In the end, I’m paraphrasing Sittenfeld, high school is a golden opportunity of possibility, but adulthood: you are what you are.

I read the author interview included in the Random House Trade Paperback, 2005 and was surprised that Sittenfeld attended, nay, endorses the famous Iowa Workshop where she loved her teachers. How often do you hear that kind of thing, but between preppy school connection and workshop crony, obviously her work has gotten about. She says she is not a fan of precious prose with limp plotting. She’s kind of an old fashioned entertainer though I can assure you she writes beautifully. I hope to hear more from this rising star.