I loved this collection. It makes me wish I’d known Gwynne Garfinkle when I was 10–12, because boy could we have played some great imaginary games together.
I’ll start with the stories, because those are what I read first. One I’d read before, “The Hedgehog and the Pine Cone,” a fable about depression, isolation, and friendship, but the rest were completely new to me. The first one I experienced was “Man Size,” which my daughter picked out and read to me when I was cooking one night. It’s a gripping story of a type of vampire unfortunately all too common in real life—one who gains power and vitality by belittling and negating others. Then I read “Don’t Look Back,” a powerful Orpheus-Eurydice story, a turn-back-time story, with the roles changed, interesting thoughts on trade-offs, and tragedy still waiting. I loved these lines:
Orpheus tears himself apart. Try as they might, the Maenads can’t put him back together again. They wail and rend their garments. Then they get very drunk
Where the protagonist of “Don’t Look Back” had the power to rewrite history, the protagonists of “The Paper Doll Golems” and “The Imaginary Friend” have the power of animation. The first is told from the perspective of Ruthie, who animates her paper dolls, while the second is told from the perspective of the titular imaginary friend, a stranded alien based on the hero of a movie beloved of Gigi, the girl who creates him. (Knowing that Gwynne is a film buff, I went searching for this movie, but alas, it seems not to exist, though I suspect The Cat from Outer Space
was a partial influence [ETA: I guessed wrong! She says it was inspired by Planet of the Apes
.]) Both stories have things to say about power and helplessness. Gwynne is definitely here for women who have been crushed, erased, belittled, co-opted—or murdered or otherwise destroyed. The opening story in the collection, “In Lieu of a Thank You,” sets the tone in that respect, transforming a damsel in distress into something much more powerful.
The poems were equally absorbing—one, in fact, entered my dreams last night: “Levitation Class.” That poem was absolutely perfect for me last night, and in my dreams I rose just as the poem describes. Thanks for that, Gwynne:
when you and your pain reach the ground
try to retain the sensation of flight
On the page facing “Levitation Class” is “Dorothy’s Prayer,” a beautiful poem from the perspective of Dorothy from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz
that contains a cyclone in it. Many of the poems are inspired by or in conversation with films: “50 Foot” (Attack of the 50 Foot Woman,
1958)—“They wanted you invisible or dead./Daring to take up space makes you monstrous”—and on the facing page, “love song from The Blob to Steve McQueen,” (The Blob,
1958) which contains these excellent lines:
it’s how I roll, it’s how I scroll
I’m my own red carpet
because I’m the star of the show
“Mysogyny” takes on The Stepford Wives
(1975), asking us to imagine what Stepford looks like decades later. Maybe fathers initiate their sons into the dark secret, but what, the poem asks, do they tell their daughters? And “Linda Blair Pantoum” (shoutout to pantoums—I love that poetic form) sent me to Wikipedia to find out the significance of the references—and now I want Gwynne to write a poem entirely for Mercedes McCambridge, originally not credited as the voice of the demon in The Exorcist
(1973). But I don’t want you to get the impression that you have to be a film fanatic or do tons of research to enjoy these poems: they’ll speak to you even without that knowledge. (They just say even more if you do have it.)People Change
is number 63
in Aqueduct Press’s Conversation Pieces series.