TODAY at StartleResponse.com we pair an inventive novel by one of the avant-garde’s clarion voices and a sumptuous textile crafted in Japan.
Lisa Robertson’s The Baudelaire Fractal appeared inconspicuously in the mail-order listings of Bridge Street Books in 2020, in the early days of the COVID pandemic. Bridge Street was one of my lifelines while I was working adrenalin-fueled biocontainment duty at a major research hospital in Baltimore. How did a nurse settle down after a night shift on that watch? She planted herself on the couch with a pit bull and a book from Bridge Street.
Among my pandemic reads, The Baudelaire Fractal burns its literary iron onto the memory of a three-year passage through the pandemic dumpster fire. Purporting to be “the legend of a she-dandy’s life,” the novel delivers all the seedy indulgence of youth in the context of transience, subsistence and glamor. From the chapter “Vocations”:
Somebody weeps, somebody fucks, somebody writes a poem, somebody leaves their panties to dry on the window latch. Somebody sleeps late and dreams a novel and somebody who is late tries on all their clothes in serial frustration.
I am not a literary critic and probably exiled myself from academia for good around the mid-90s, so I will not offend the author or the culture by submitting my theories on how this novel undermines the patriarchy, challenges notions of romance and the feminine, and introduces a refreshingly new “fractal” for structuring narrative.
Instead, I honor the sensory catalogue of this book and its resonance with an inner dialogue. The great California winemaker Sean Thackrey often spoke of his craft as “the making of a pleasure,” and I contend that this is also what Robertson accomplished in her book. I recall reading it and telling my friend, esteemed poet and publisher Rod Smith, about a passage in the book when the heroine dons a teal suit that she purchases with funds she saved by foregoing meals. We agreed that green-blue had never been so colorful. The notion of such a resolute tradeoff beguiled us. My thoughts turned to the punks of the 80s: living in squats but looking astonishingly alluring with meticulously orchestrated safety pins and carmine-red lipstick.
With all the sartorial splendor at hand in The Baudelaire Fractal, what was a nurse/writer to do but construct high fashion during a time when there was nowhere to go wearing anything but scrubs and PPE? And so I ordered fabric designer Carolyn Friedlander’s textile #19928 from my local sewing supplier at the time, Domesticity. One could order the fabric online then do a drive-by to pick up the goods, plopped on their front stoop to avoid human contact. (I believe in those days we were also spraying down every purchase with sanitizer, correct?). The joint exuberance of Robertson’s book and that lavish fabric inspired the pictured champagne kimono embellished with copper stamping.