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Like a Manta Ray

Jenny Turner: The Entire History of Sex

21 October 2015
The Argonauts 
by Maggie Nelson.
Graywolf, 143 pp., £23, May 2015, 978 1 55597 707 8
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... Most writers​ she knows, MaggieNelson writes, ‘nurse persistent fantasies about the horrible things – or the horrible thing – that will happen to them if and when they express themselves as they desire’. Everywhere she goes ...

Words as Amulets

Ange Mlinko: Barbara Guest’s Poems

3 December 2009
The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest 
edited by Hadley Haden Guest.
Wesleyan, 525 pp., £33.95, July 2008, 978 0 8195 6860 1
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Women, the New York School and Other True Abstractions 
by Maggie Nelson.
Iowa, 288 pp., £38.50, December 2007, 978 1 58729 615 4
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... the so-called ‘second generation’ looked very different, and little of their style or substance can be traced to Guest’s influence. In Women, the New York School and Other True Abstractions, MaggieNelson tries to rectify this omission, but the differences between Guest and the later poets she profiles – Bernadette Mayer, Alice Notley and Eileen Myles – so far outweigh any similarities that ...

I want to ride a dragon

Elisa Gabbert: Paul-as-Polly

1 August 2019
Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl 
by Andrea Lawlor.
Picador, 341 pp., £14.99, April, 978 1 5290 0766 4
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... it out only if no one else was home … Paul remembered the time he had sex with Heather Federson, how jealous he was she got to feel a dick inside her. The prose has gone into poetry drag. Like MaggieNelson or Carmen Maria Machado, Lawlor is interested in blending styles and genres – or, perhaps more accurately, refuses to be confined by genre boundaries. As Polly, Paul does things Paul wouldn ...

Gossip in Gilt

James Wood: John Updike’s Licks of Love

19 April 2001
Licks of Love: Short Stories and a Sequel, ‘Rabbit Remembered’ 
by John Updike.
Hamish Hamilton, 368 pp., £16.99, March 2001, 9780241141298
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... astounding, even by Updike’s standards. In ‘Natural Colour’, Frank, stuck in his flavourless marriage (‘he had opted for a wife, and a wife she was, no less or more’), recalls an old flame, Maggie, and an earlier life of real and desired adulteries: ‘Driving back from taking the babysitter home, Frank would pass darkened houses where husbands he knew were lying in bed, head to murmuring head ...

One Great Good True Thing

Thomas Powers: Tennessee Williams

20 November 2014
Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh 
by John Lahr.
Bloomsbury, 765 pp., £30, September 2014, 978 1 4088 4365 9
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... rocks he also gave himself an intramuscular injection of a magic potion concocted by a New York doctor called Max Jacobson, referred to by celebrities who had his phone number – Marlene Dietrich, Nelson Rockefeller, John F. Kennedy – as Doctor Feelgood. Lahr identifies the ingredients in these ‘fire-shots’ as amphetamines, painkillers, vitamins and human placenta. Williams was trying to clear ...

Nothing Natural

Jenny Turner: SurrogacyTM

13 January 2020
Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism against Family 
by Sophie Lewis.
Verso, 216 pp., £14.99, May 2019, 978 1 78663 729 1
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Making Kin Not Population 
edited by Adele Clarke and Donna Haraway.
Prickly Paradigm, 120 pp., £10, July 2018, 978 0 9966355 6 1
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... is that normality is pliable, so long as you can pay for it. ‘If there’s one thing homonormativity reveals, it’s the troubling fact that you can be victimised and in no way be radical,’ as MaggieNelson wrote in The Argonauts (the words in italics are Leo Bersani’s). It’s not to put down the love and care parents of all sorts give their children – my own parenting behaviour fits pretty ...

Baby-Sitter

Elaine Showalter

14 June 1990
Simone de Beauvoir: A Biography 
by Deirdre Bair.
Cape, 718 pp., £19.95, June 1990, 9780224020480
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Lettres à Sartre. Vol I: 1930-1939 
by Simone de Beauvoir, edited by Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir.
Gallimard, 400 pp., frs 120, February 1990, 2 07 071829 8
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Lettres à Sartre. Vol II: 1940-1963 
by Simone de Beauvoir, edited by Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir.
Gallimard, 443 pp., frs 120, February 1990, 2 07 071864 6
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Journal de Guerre, Septembre 1939-Janvier 1941 
by Simone de Beauvoir, edited by Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir.
Gallimard, 371 pp., February 1990, 2 07 071809 3
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In the Shadow of Sartre 
by Liliane Siegel, translated by Barbara Wright.
182 pp., £12.95, May 1990, 9780002153362
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... In an uncharacteristic moment of playfulness during her affair with Nelson Algren, Simone de Beauvoir called herself his ‘frog wife’. Although it echoed his tough-guy slang about their Paris-Chicago romance, the phrase has the ring of feminist fable. Like Hans Christian ...

In the Egosphere

Adam Mars-Jones: The Plot against Roth

23 January 2014
Roth Unbound: A Writer and His Books 
by Claudia Roth Pierpont.
Cape, 353 pp., £25, January 2014, 978 0 224 09903 5
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... years then being barracked at a symposium was hardly Roth’s overriding problem. Letting Go had contained a sympathetic portrait of a damaged but vital woman, under the name of Martha. Lucy Nelson, the central figure of his next novel, When She Was Good (1967), is just as damaged but also perversely destructive of herself and others, no longer a valiant survivor. She freezes to death on a ...

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