Sunday, April 12, 2009

Lolita: a pyramid story

My story, paraphrased in italics:

I got my first bikini when I was in fourth grade. Until then, the popular girls my age had worn one-piece bathing suits. Mine had been orange with holes cut into it. I picked that one because it was like my Barbie’s. My Barbie was actually the red-headed Stacy, but she had the same body as Barbie. My bikini was red with navy blue and white flowers on it. The bra was padded, and there were little ties at the sides of the bikini bottom. As my first act in the bikini, I decided to stroll across the park to see my friend, Lori. I didn’t wear shoes or a cover up. I can still remember the rough feeling of the yellowed grass underfoot. Halfway across the park, Mr. Stanchfield appeared at the end of his fence. He had trained a pair of binoculars on me as I walked across the park in the bikini. I remember thinking, what is wrong with Mr. Stanchfield that he wants to watch a fourth-grader walk in a bikini? I thought, this may be my punishment since my parents didn’t stop me.

(I was still flat but I had started to grow pubic hair -- “public hair,” as one boy had pronounced the word from a sex manual.)

(I had an absent-minded, but not permissive, mother who rarely looked up from her gardening, and my father, later secretly and wrongly accused of child molestation by my adult male partner, averted his eyes if he saw me in a bathing suit. Blocked memory theory had caught on before there was literature to defend it/us/them.)

(My adult male partner was a devoted reader of Nabokov.)

(I have the demonstrated genes for bipolar -- I now know -- so my young thinking about these and other subjects might already have been bent. Bipolar theory had caught on with the doctors before there was literature to defend it/us/them.)

The paragraph and notes above are not literature. The story precedes, in time, the boy sexual violence that ensued in the same park. Though I wrote a novella about it, more remains to be told. My adult male partner, who during his adolescence in the 60s had been the target of bullies, had reasoned that a girl's sexual abuse by boys in the 70s could not have been serious enough to account for long-term emotional variations related to violation. It's an argument, but I didn't make it, that it had been a set-up. The novella was good enough for entrance and fellowships to creative writing programs, but it was not good enough to get past the praise stage with a handful of editors, who didn’t publish it. Teachers had told us “novellas” don’t sell.

It seems that there is a dearth of fine literature about the subjects Lolita covers and the subjects it misses. One other book has been named, and that is Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. It seems possible -- yet this group is not suggesting that it has happened -- that from among the group of victims and survivors, which, to judge by responses on the women's poetry listserv, seems large -- there might come literary works of merit that tell a story (a version of the universal girl story) that could trump Lolita, a book as good as To Kill a Mockingbird that addresses the single blindspot in it.

Later, though this is only marginally related, I named the 1998 version of my short story ms., The Universal Girl for It, but no one was buying -- not even a women’s publishing house, not even a publisher who subscribes to this list. Teachers had told us short story collections don’t sell -- agents aren’t interested in them. The same ms. is now called Institute of Tut. (The “institute” in the title likely refers to creative writing programs, but it may also refer to the internet. I learned after I had renamed the ms. -- written over 20 years -- that I had had an uncle-in-law named “Tut,” a physicist, married for 50 years to my aunt, also a physicist.)

My friend, Vikram Chandra, a devoted reader of Trollope, assures me that my favorite Trollope title, An Unprotected Female at the Pyramids, is not one of his best.

This is the 300th entry at Ana Verse.

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