This week, we're celebrating Spring nominee My Sister's Continent through song and dance--okay, no song, no dance (though it would be somewhat appropriate). But lots of words, from discussions to guest-blogging by the book's author, Gina Frangello, interviews, and a podcast. Jeff Bryant and I opened up a discussion of the book over the weekend -- others will be adding their insights as well.
[Kassia] Having decided once was enough when it comes to Freud (hey, today's his birthday!), I haven't read the "Dora" case study, and I suspect that's just fine. However, anytime you add dear Sigmund to the mix, the topic of sex is rarely far behind. When I went back and read some reviews of My Sister's Continent, many focused on the dark sexual aspects of this novel -- which made me wonder if I was reading something else. When you think back to your first impressions of this novel, what stands out in your mind?
[Jeff] The dark sex definitely stands out but not as the reason that I really liked this book. For me, this was the one book of the current LBC selections that I couldn't put down. I was fascinated by the story from the beginning, including its relationship to Freud's "Dora." It had been a while since my last read of Dora but I did recall some of the parts of the case study that were relevant to this story: the adulterous relationship by the father, the hints of sexual abuse by the father, the seeming failure of the part of the therapist to cure the patient. If I remember correctly, Freud diagnosed Dora with hysteria, which could be an interesting subject for a later question. Anyway, back to my first impression, I'll say that it took some pages into the novel before I figured out the gender of the narrator, Kirby. Am I the only one?
[Kassia] I got a real female vibe from Kirby right from the beginning (maybe it was the mention of unshaven armpits on the first page -- we're so weird about body hair on women in this country that the reference could only come from a female, at least to my way of thinking). I'm glad you mentioned the failed therapy. My first thought was that it was a tick, a way of getting into the story, but the more I considered the whole novel, I realized that Kirby's initially emotional response to the therapist's presumption that she could even do a case study was critical. That was the only way Kirby would be able to face the reality of her family. Kendra dealt with the dark secrets of her family through increasingly masochistic acts; Kirby pretended everything was normal. Both approaches were physically (and emotionally) violent. Would Kirby have ever faced the truth without the therapist's "help"?
And, yeah, we should get back to they hysteria notion...
[Jeff] I think my confusion over gender was more just a close reading deficiency. I missed the underarm thing and the whole "identical twin" mention in the first few pages, I suppose. But there is something about the confrontational tone of the narrator or even the nature of her confrontation that had me reading "maleness" into the voice early on. Anyway, did Kirby really face the truth, since in reality she was doing it through writing what had been left unwritten, or as she puts it in her opening letter "to construct from the rubble of her clues and my own subconscious a version more whole than the divergent realities we each clung to that final year." I guess the therapist brought out the narrative, but do you think that Kirby ever really got to the truth?
Discover the answer in Part Two, coming later today!