Reviews: The Yellow Wallpaper & Jaw
Updated: Sep 23
Over the past few days I read two short books - a short story (which I first read at Bard College in a class with one of my favorite professors, Marina van Zuylen), and a new book of poetry by my friend, Al Abonado.
They don't have anything to do with one another (though I do think they look nice side by side!). I just read them both, and wanted to talk about them both...
The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892)
Only about 14 pages, the book is narrated in the first person by a woman who is staying at a rented mansion for the summer with her husband, a doctor. She has been diagnosed with some sort of mental affliction - "temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency," an all too common "diagnosis" (always of women) of the era . There is some indication that her "hysteria" is actually just her desire to write, or is thought to be brought on by writing, anyway. She is sequestered in the upstairs nursery of the house – while someone else cares for her baby (It's worth nothing that this is a semi-autobiographical story that Gilman wrote after experiencing postpartum depression). The unnamed woman in the story begins to sink into a new sort of insanity as she examines the patterns in the yellow wallpaper covering the room.
In my memory, this book was much longer than 14 pages... I think Gilman does such an exception job of telling the story that I felt it had to have been longer to feel so deep and whole. I was shocked when I re-read it and saw it's length. But it did not in any way disappoint upon a second reading.
Jaw, by Albert Abonado (2020)
Local Rochester writer, SUNY Geneseo professor, and friend Al Abonado just published this slim, eye-catching collection of poems that touches on aspects of American and Filipino culture, immigration, and family. I really loved this. I know he wrote it before any pandemic news, but there were definitely passages that felt very current to me. I think there are some parallels to what he discusses in the book and what we're going through now... family trauma, fear and vulnerability, the ludicrousness of life, finding ways to connect with people, and ways to laugh through the pain.
Frankly, I don't read a lot of poetry because I often find it very difficult to dissect and relate to. It's possible that the reason (or part of it, anyway) that I connected to this collection is that I know the author. That certainly makes it easier. But I also think that good writing is universal. That is to say, anyone can read it and find some way in which it speaks to them, some way that it applies to their lives – because the sentiments themsleves are not limited to one person's experiences.
UP NEXT: Disoriental, by Négar Djavadi
For my Book Thieves book club meeting on May 7th (via Zoom meeting).
If you're interested in joining us you can find more information here.