Cra – cra and yet more cra (crazy), these three novels would make Sybil (a patient made famous for her multiple personalities) look like Heidi (Johana Spyri’s classic novels about a girl who lives with her grandfather in the Swiss Alps.)
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (So Many Ways …), Dennis Cooper (The Sluts) and Kate Braverman (Lithium…) render emotionally, and physically battered characters who are all in the grip – of sex, drugs, and trauma. Monstrous parents loom in the background. The characters stagger around popping pain meds, pursuing degrading objects of desire, overuse the “internet” and run from Mom. Wildly different (stylistically), the narratives are relentlessly grim yet impossible to put down. Yaaa!!! Page turners for the depressed and disaffected.
Sycamore’s So Many Ways … is the rawest yet most accomplished of the three. Once you give yourself over to the challenging style, the words overtake you.
Cooper’s The Sluts is the apotheosis of a story he’s been reworking for years: a generic, yet elusive boy who comes to an ambiguous end. At times, The Sluts narrative comes close to unraveling, but Cooper exercises a firm hand over his material. The puer figure who appears in multiple incarnations (Safe, Try, Frisk) is taken, in The Sluts, to an endpoint that’s more definitively terminal.
Braverman’s Lithium for Medea, is the most conventionally written of the three, grounded as it is in the daughter / crazy mother trope. What elevates and propels Lithium… out the realm of genre (or, “women’s fiction” ie., Jody Picoult et al) is the language. Braverman’s constructed a writer self who’s both seer / sorceress who uses language to perform her alchemy for purification, self-immolation be damned.
Some characterize (and, disparage) Braverman’s work as, “beat.” But unlike Kerouac or, Ginsberg, Braverman’s trafficks in the mythological, an icky underneath that’s both earthy and “feminine.” Starkly different from the sissy boy / homocore feminity of Cooper, or Sycamore, Braverman’s feminine is both regenerative, and destructive – Goddess Kali on estrogen – cued to the female archetype: girlhood giving way to motherhood giving way to the crone.