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Like a Manta Ray

Jenny Turner: The Entire History of Sex, 22 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, Maggie Nelson 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 – ‘especially if I’m in drag as a “memoirist”’ – such fears appear to be uppermost in everybody’s mind ...

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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... traced to Guest’s influence. In Women, the New York School and Other True Abstractions, Maggie Nelson 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 it again threatens the whole fragile concept of the ...

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 2019, 978 1 5290 0766 4
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... how jealous he was she got to feel a dick inside her. The prose has gone into poetry drag. Like Maggie Nelson 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’t do; he cries easily, for example. He feels ...

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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... 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, with wives he coveted.’ (One relishes the kitschy way ...

Nothing Natural

Jenny Turner: SurrogacyTM, 23 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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... reveals, it’s the troubling fact that you can be victimised and in no way be radical,’ as Maggie Nelson 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 much into the ‘eternally ...

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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... 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 the fog in his brain, to call up some residue of the ...

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 Andersen’s little mermaid, whose story Beauvoir wept over as a child, the frog wife is a changeling, unlike other women; pebbly and awkward, she cannot wed the prince ...

Is it OK to have a child?

Meehan Crist, 5 March 2020

... feel for hours with my next child – the certainty that I was dying.‘To let the baby out,’ Maggie Nelson writes, ‘you have to be willing to go to pieces.’ ‘Just this is miraculous,’ Carole Maso writes. ‘That I ploughed without illusion towards death. Even as I gave life.’ Not everyone describes birth as an encounter with death: there ...

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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... 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 winter’s night, having driven away anyone who might care ...

The earth had need of me

Joanna Biggs: A nice girl like Simone, 16 April 2020

Becoming Beauvoir: A Life 
by Kate Kirkpatrick.
Bloomsbury, 476 pp., £20, August 2019, 978 1 350 04717 4
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Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir and Me, a Memoir 
by Deirdre Bair.
Atlantic, 347 pp., £18.99, February, 978 1 78649 265 4
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Diary of a Philosophy Student, Vol. II: 1928-29 
by Simone de Beauvoir, translated by Barbara Klaw.
Illinois, 374 pp., £40, June 2019, 978 0 252 04254 6
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... husband of one of her female lovers without the woman knowing. The publication of her letters to Nelson Algren in 1997 made the relationship she had with Sartre look passionless, as did the photo that emerged in 2008 of Beauvoir at 42, pinning her hair up in Algren’s bathroom wearing just a pair of heels. And her insistence that Sartre was the ...

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