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I can’t thank Mathias Svalina enough for introducing me to Selah Saterstrom. Her first novel, The Pink Institution (Coffee House Press, 2004), offers up such stark, spare language as to mimic the fragmented, but forever life-altering, moments in the lives of her (many generations of) women, not one of whom escapes her own special brand of suffering.

“Willie called his daughters into the dining room. He picked up a dining room table chair and threw it into a closed window. The window shattered. He said, “That’s a lesson about virginity. Do you understand?” to which they replied, “Yes sir.”

The chapter — yes, chapter — above is the first in the section “Maidenhood Objects,” which follows the section “Childhood Objects.” Perhaps the following is the most representative chapter from “Childhood Objects”:

“Azalea sent Aza to Toomsata to see if Willie was there. Aza walked into the house. She asked Dunbar if her father was there. Dunbar said, ‘He’s in the bed, you jealous little bitch.’ On several occasions the children watched Dunbar masturbate their drunk father while their mother, also drunk, slobbered on herself sitting in the corner.”

This is a painful novel, but it is beautiful and reminds me of Lydia Millet’s My Happy Life, and Kate Bernheimer’s The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold and The Complete Tales of Merry Gold. Buy it, check it out (check out all of them) from your library, and get reading at once. And if you’re an impatient type, try a little sneak preview action at Google books.

Thanks again, Mathias. I owe you one.

5 thoughts on “Selah Saterstrom’s THE PINK INSTITUTION

    1. No, not all. In fact, the first section is made up of poems. The last section is made up of one- and two-page solid prose chapters.

      The Believer sums it up best:

      “Rustic and resourceful, The Pink Institution uses a different structure for each of its five sections. The first is fractured by excerpts from found texts; the second organized in object blocks; “Psalter: (Birth Interim),” the third and only section to be titled, is a small group of prose poems centered around a prayer; the fourth features prose passages occasionally mediated by semi-colons; while the fifth fittingly unravels into “Scene” and “Gesticulations.” This structural costume-changing is pursued with just the right combination of play, gravity, and restraint.”

  1. Sounds like a stunning text, Molly– thanks for sharing your thanks.

    And that first chapter you quote…wow, what a bone-chilling object lesson…

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