Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Go ahead, have a coup and set up a puppet government. This cheerful vintage novelty print puts the world on a string and takes you to the circus. It’s a tight squeeze with a waist of 26 inches. But free will don’t come cheap, kiddo. This circle skirt will set you back $99.

The clowns evoke a strong early 60s aesthetic. I like the way their arms and legs are splayed out as they hang all over the skirt. But the monkey is my favorite with his curled tail and little pink face. Taken as a whole, I especially enjoy the way the strings are positioned diagonally across the skirt.

I’d wear this with very turn of the past century-looking Victorian-style lace-up black boots, and either a black turtleneck or a close-fitting jacket. I’d wear it to interview United States Senators. Or to debate the fine points of Schopenhauer’s “On the Freedom of the Will”. And if anyone dared to tell me that I create my own reality, I’d give them this quote from the text to chew on:

“Everyone believes himself a priori to be perfectly free, even in his individual actions, and thinks that at every moment he can commence another manner of life... . But a posteriori, through experience, he finds to his astonishment that he is not free, but subjected to necessity, that in spite of all his resolutions and reflections he does not change his conduct, and that from the beginning of his life to the end of it, he must carry out the very character which he himself condemns...."”

So put that in your pipe and smoke it, Libertines! I mean, Libertarians. Necessity being the key word in this quote. Ah, necessity. All the things I’ve done for you. And you called them choices.

I just finished reading Amanda Davis’ “Wonder When You’ll Miss Me”, a well-written page- turner about a teenage girl who runs off with the circus after a horrendous episode of sexual abuse and a suicide attempt. Though initially repulsed by the cover which proclaimed it “Elle Magazine’s Book of the Year” (for 2003, I am presuming), I remembered that women’s magazines, though in thrall to the notion that lip gloss can transform your life, do offer some moments of resistance and this was one of them.

The novel is a fast-moving tale that not only does a great job of presenting depression and dissociation along with the aftermath of sexual abuse, but it also explores the way traumatic memories are repressed and how they surface. The protagonist, Faith, has created a mental doppelganger to comfort, cajole, and advise her. Though Faith is frequently in conflict with her, and refers to her only as “the fat girl”, this imaginary friend is both wiser and braver than Faith. It is she who ties together the fragmented memories of the attack and helps Faith take revenge. Psychosis is always a good touch, and of course “the fat girl” is herself; nonetheless, this alter ego is dominated by a conceit of constant messy and almost libidinous eating that in confronting Sizeism ends up unintentionally re-enforcing Sizeism. At that point, Ms. Davis leaves the bodyimage issues in a nasty tangle. The female body and its size remain, as graduate students used to say, problematic.

I was worried about second half of the novel that concerns the circus. My father’s family were carnies, and knowing the hardscrabble existence it is, I am often frustrated by bowdlerized depictions of it in popular culture.

Had I read the acknowledgements beforehand, I would have had no fears no that account. I would have known that Ms. Davis spent a season traveling with the Bindlestiff Family Circus (and gives a shout out to Scotty the Blue Bunny, how I adore him). The circus is shown as the dysfunctional family that it is: constant infighting and shifting alliances. Not to mention hazardous working conditions. And no pay beyond meals and a bunk. Our heroine literally carves out 9 months of circus duty shoveling horse and elephant shit. Oh, there’s tinsel among that sawdust, don’t worry. But the novel offers no solutions, easy or otherwise, and is appealingly bleak. Yes, appealingly. But then, I’m Goth like that.

After finishing the novel last night, I was saddened to discover that Amanda Davis was killed in an airplane crash in 2003, leaving behind only this novel and a collection of short stories.


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