Thursday, March 18, 2010

Book Review: Lisa Glatt, A Girl Becomes A Comma Like That

Author: Lisa Glatt
Publisher/Year: Simon & Schuster, 2004

"A girl becomes a comma like that, with wrong boy after wrong boy,” reflects Rachel Sparks, the lead protagonist in Lisa Glatt’s debut novel A Girl Becomes A Comma Like That. This line is meant to completely encompass Rachel’s entire, fractured existence. She escapes her blistered reality through various liaisons with wrong boy after wrong boy in an attempt to escape her own body, and in an odd way, her dying mother’s body as well. Her quest, and those of the other women in the novel, demonstrates vividly the tenuous and conflicting power relationship women have with their bodies. It can be our best friend or our worst enemy.

The female body and its centrality in forming connections with others and one’s self is the overarching theme of Glatt’s novel. She forthrightly tackles our uneasiness with our bodies through carefully constructed protaganists. There is the central character Rachel, a poetry teacher who consciously uses her healthy body in order to escape from it, drowning herself in drunken and sorrowful sexual escapades that require nothing of her but flesh. She is not required to feel, to think, or connect to anything around her through these acts. They provide, in her view, an ugly respite from having too many connections elsewhere.

Rachel’s pained and shallow emotional explorations via her body stand in sharp contrast to the vivid representations of death and decay that emanate from her mother’s cancer-riddled body. Her mother’s chipper outlook despite recurring breast cancer is a source of great concern for Rachel, as too is her mother’s interest in plastic surgery to reconstruct her breast for balance, “It’s terrible having a D cup on one side and nothing on the other. I feel like I’m going to tip over sometimes—literally fall down.”

There is also 16-year-old Georgia, a teenager with a fractured home life who learned early on that her body was her main avenue for getting attention. Abandoned by her mother, ignored by her brother, and caring for ailing father, Georgia has volumes of repressed rage against the world and herself and forces its expression through her body in attempt to gain control over something.

Ella Bloom, a student of Rachel’s and a nurse at the clinic where Georgia is a patient, sees the body as a disconnected whole, something that must be dealt with externally rather than internally. Her constant exposure to the travesties that can ravage a woman’s body (STDs, abortions) offers a different insight into the concept of bodily connection. This perspective provides a very real, very heartening glimpse into what it really means to be a woman.

Throughout the stories of these four women, Glatt examines the body as a series of parts that can be molded, deconstructed, and manipulated to the will of the beholder. Rachel disapproves of her mother’s willingness to shed her wig, order a vibrator, and fall in love because such activities seem to her to be in contrast to how she views her mother’s body. How can someone take joy in their body when it is committing the ultimate betrayal? Glatt’s repeated references to various body parts (butts that are too big, mouths that puff up like down pillows) serve to examine and reinforce just how interrelated sex and death are in terms of our bodies and our conceptions of them.

Glatt’s writing has an authenticity to it, lending it a credibility that deepens the heartache threaded through the pages. She switches tones from mournful to witty to clever to hopeful to pensive fluidly in order to deliver clever and honest representations of her character’s dilemmas. Glatt has fine debut novel on her hands with A Girls Becomes A Comma Like That; it is exactly what it needed to be -- uncompromising, introspective, and strong.

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