Lore Segal’s tour de force look at the New York Literary scene was a hit with it was first released in the 1970’s, winning the praise of the literary elite. …. It has been a cult classic ever since.
What associations do I start to make? 1970’s cult classic – they’re always a bit weird, aren’t they? I’m thinking flared trousers and psychedelic flights of fancy. And I wouldn’t be wrong because in places this book is quite bonkers and when it’s operating on that level, I’m not trying to understand it. Just thanking my lucky stars that I’m not married to a mediocre poet and having an affair with the superman that is my best friend Hera’s husband Zeus!
In other places, however, I’m enjoying myself immensely; accompanying Lucinella on her journey with a bunch of literati on the round of parties, writer’s seminars and other literary events; gleefully soaking up the multitude of petty jealousies that exist among them; puzzling about Lucinella’s love life that sees her stumbling into a marriage with a man whose worship of her is not reciprocated due to the irritation of scrumpled wet towels. (Bathroom wars! Not just confined to the 1970’s ….)
This is such a heady satire. Affectionate in places but with such vicious, laugh out loud (shame on me) barbs in others. Filled with writerly angst.
Yesterday, he says, he changed a comma to a period-capital-A and copied the whole poem over and saw it should have been a comma and changed it back, and copied it over, and changed it back to a period. All day, for a week, for months, he has been changing this same comma and can’t go on until he gets it right.
Lucinella herself an aspiring poet, but her writer’s block caused by an obsession to get her filing system in order.
Tuesday I file Art. The soap operas I write evenings go in a pink folder. Mornings I write poetry, which I subdivide into the poem, that won a prize, which goes into a blue folder tied with a ribbon; abandoned ideas I put in a black one, and those on which I am at work in green, isn’t it, for hope?
It appears there are so many pitfalls to the literary life. This novella portrays three contemporaneous Lucinellas. The young aspiring Lucinella, a hanger-on, ill-read but ambitious; the old Lucinella, never quite made it as a poet and not always in full possession of her faculties; and the narrator, not sure if she’s middle-aged or not but still obsessive and not quite up to the standard of her peers. This Lucinella’s major preoccupation is how to make her images dovetail. Which they do eventually but only when she’s lying on a therapist’s couch!
I suspect there are many writer’s obsessions documented in these pages. Not least that of appearing in the work of a friend. The source of many a ruined friendship
Are you coming? she asks me.
“Not with you, I’m not,” I say.
“Why?” cries Ulla. “What did I do?”
“You put me in your novel,” I say.
“Did I say something unkind or untrue?” she says. “You come off perfectly interesting and nice!”
“I know,” I say, and hang up on her. How could Ulla make me into a minor character with walk-on in Chapter VIII and one eleven-line speech at the very end, when it’s obvious the protagonist is me.
All of which makes me wonder how Segal’s satire won and continues to win the praise of the literary elite. Her fictional characters are so encompassing that everyone – publishers, writers, critics – are implicated. Fortunately they respond with more generosity than her fictional folk and that means that the literary world can’t really be this bitchy …. or can it?