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Pickle Me This

September 12, 2011

Mini Reviews: White Stone: The Alice Poems and The Wings of the Dove

Last night at this time, I kept thinking to myself, “By tomorrow, I won’t be reading The Wings of the Dove anymore!” Partly because I’ve got so much going on at the moment that spending a week and a half reading a single book is kind of ridiculous (because it now means that I have five books to read by next Tuesday). And also because reading The Wings of the Dove is an all-consuming occupation that drives one cross-eyed if they work at it too long.

I really liked the book, though some bits I found so very tedious– Milly “I might be dying, but I’m probably not, and let’s live like I’m not, but yes, I’m probably dying. Don’t treat me any different for it, but let’s keep having this conversation” Theale in particular. I know she was magnificent, but I never really got it. I thought she was drippy. I thought everyone who worshipped her was a bit drippy vicariously. Everything going on around her, however, the Kate Croy/Merton Densher alliance against Aunt Maud (and also against themselves), and Kate’s background, and her bad father– I loved this. I loved Densher, with all those “And there you are”s, when it suddenly occurs to him that he’s never been in so many places at once. Kate’s point about the things people say about their enemies, but what really gets her is what people say about their friends. I’m fascinated by Kate’s coldness, and how James made her intentions and true nature so elusive. The story told me more about the story that wasn’t in the story than the story itself. But yes, it will be a sweet relief to next open a book and find it not written by Henry James, but rather, Lynn Coady….

Reading Henry James, however, this past week or so, I’ve found that poetry has been the perfect accompaniment. I read Stephanie Bolster’s collection White Stone: The Alice Poems, and absolutely fell in love with it. It kept me up at night, because I couldn’t find a good place to stop reading and put it down. The poems are accessible, rich, full of story and history, and expand on myths that are familiar to so many. In these poems, The Poet imagines herself observing Charles Dodgson’s (Lewis Carroll’s) infatuation with the real Alice, Alice Liddell. She imagines herself present when Dodgson took his photos of the girl over many years, a stange enduring fly on the wall. And then Dodgson falls away, Bolster considers the actual history of Alice the woman, then she spirits the fictional Alice out into many additional incarnations (Alice with Persephone, Alice with Elvis, Alice with Christopher Robin). By the end of the book, as she had been with Lewis Carroll, Alice is a self-indulgent flight of fancy, but she’s wonderful, the book is so wonderful, and it’s no surprise that White Stone won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry back in 1998. Only realy question is why it’s taken me so long to discover it and read it. (But thanks to Nathalie Foy for finally taking care of this.)

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