Paula Bomer’s Recent Reading at Brown University

Here’s the introduction I delivered before Paula Bomer’s reading at Brown University’s Literary Arts Department’s Demitasse on February 21, 2013:

Reading Paula Bomer’s alternately sardonic and poignant stories and novel, I couldn’t help thinking about Akira Kurosawa’s observation that “To be an artist means never to avert your eyes,” because Bomer unwaveringly, relentlessly observes the fumbles, foibles, and failures of mostly women, but also men, on the verge of, yes, breakdowns, nervous and otherwise, but also breakups, crackups, and myriad other fallings apart. She keeps looking and looking, when most people in the name of propriety, but really because of their fear, hypocrisy, and/or the like, would look away; but she also forces readers to watch, using her words as a corrective, much like the Minister of the Interior in the film version of A Clockwork Orange, who employs an “experimental aversion therapy” for rehabilitating criminals, where the “volunteer” is drugged, strapped into a chair, has his eyelids propped open, and is forced to watch violent movies. Make no mistake, these are moral tales, as cautionary and chastising as they are entertaining.

In Baby and Other Stories, you’ll find a couple that “grows apart eight hours a day”; a manchild who recalls his fingers lingering in a girl (actually, several men stick their digits in orifices); a woman who thinks that a handshake is the true measure of a man; a character who believes that “the only real limit to the collection of one’s errors was death”; another whose depression “felt like nothing, a heavy endless nothing, and nothing was death”; a pig of a man who rapes his wife; a mean, no, hateful mother, who asserts the right to speak her mind, which, in this case, means emptying all its vitriol on others, her children included; yet another victim of marriage rape; a twisted mother, who controls her son by depriving him of her love; an unhinged mother, who several times imagines smashing her newborn’s head against a wall, a woman who thought that having a baby had been “a failure of the imagination”; and, a despicable man, who hates his wife with such relish, even as she dies over the course of a couple of days, right before his eyes.

In Bomer’s novel, Nine Months, a powder keg of a person, a person bearing a child she’s ambivalent about, a person suffering from the “overwhelmitude of it all,” finally explodes, abandoning her husband and two young children, embarking on a raunchy, debauched odyssey; visiting old haunts; drug-addled friends from the past who might as well be ghosts; a venomous sister; and a crazed, megalomaniacal, svengali, before finally having her baby, after which she tries to mend everything she’s messed up.

Paula Bomer’s characters resist either/or dichotomies, a series of self-cancellations, embracing, instead, a fusion, a both/and dynamic, or what Sonia in Nine Months calls “Bothness”: a double life:

The love and the hate. The mucous fuck and the tender innocent cheek of the baby. I will have it all and it won’t kill me because I’ll know the truth. Even if I can’t walk around saying it as I buy diapers and cookies at the store. There is a public life and a private life. I didn’t create the two things. There is an inner and an outer life. There are layers and layers to ourselves. To be one thing is not to not be another.”

Please join me in welcoming Paula Bomer.

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