much, much later, when it came out, i had the sickening thought that she had been right. of course, by then i was an adult and had run into my share of belittlement and prejudice with my own work. i believed she used those men as fronts to prove a point, and she did, at least in part, but when i read the fragment of her memoir and the journals, i saw how complicated her involvements with them had been and that the masks were real, too. She's been terribly misunderstood. She was not a calculating beast exploiting people right and left. i don't think anybody really knows when she first started thinking about pseudonyms. She published one dense art review under the name roger raison in a magazine in the eighties, dumping on the Baudrillard craze, demolishing his simulacra argument, but few people paid attention. i remember when i was fifteen, our family was in Lisbon, and she went over and kissed the statue of Pessoa. my mother told me to read him, and, of course, he was famous for what he called his heteronyms. She was also deeply influenced by Kierkegaard. No doubt her urge to be other people went back to her childhood. my mother's best friend, rachel Briefman, is a psychiatrist and a psychoanalyst. She is probably right that psychotherapy unleashed a harriet Burden none of us had ever seen before, as well as a number of other characters or personas she had been sitting on for quite some time. i don't mean as in multiple personalities but as in protean artist selves, selves that popped out and needed bodies. i could never have said any of this even a year ago, but slowly i've come to see my mother in a different light, or maybe, i should say, several different lights.
But that's happened over the years. When i first saw Memorial Dream, i was unprepared. it shocked me. one Sunday i brought my daughter, Aven, to red hook for brunch. my husband, oscar, didn't come along. i can't remember why. he probably had to write a report on one of the kids he works with. (he has a PhD in psychology and sees private patients, but he also spends time with foster children in the system, for which he is paid next to nothing.) if mother had any strays at the time, none of them was around. Aven had just started to walk then, so it must have been the spring of 1996, and we had an eventful meal because my daughter spent every minute walking, or rather walking and falling, walking again and falling again. my mother clapped and laughed, and Aven was delighted, showing off more and more until she exhausted herself, sobbed, and i settled her in for a nap on a sofa surrounded by pillows to keep her from falling off. my mother had many pillows, in both muted and bright colors. She used to talk about color and meaning. color, she said, has corporeal meaning. Before we can name the color we're seeing, it's in us.
Where was i? When Aven woke up, my mother told me she wanted to show me something she had been working on, and she took me to the far end of her studio space, which was still under construction at the time. She had built a little room with translucent glass walls the color of milk. i could see a figure through the wall and all at once i understood i was looking at my father seated in a chair. The likeness must have been in the figure's posture, because when mother pushed open a nearly invisible door, the soft stuffed body that had looked so much like Father had only blunt features, but it was wearing one of my father's suits and Don Quixote was open in its lap, the book my father loved most. When i looked down, i saw that the floor was plastered with papers, Xeroxes, memoranda, notes my father had taken, and that my mother's own handwriting was scrawled on the red linoleum squares. And there were three miniature stairways that jutted upward and ended against the three walls. Five doors had been crudely drawn onto one of the walls. i burst into tears. Then Aven started crying, and my mother tried to repair the situation. "i'm sorry, i'm so sorry." That was typical. She couldn't bear to see people distressed. it affected her physically. She would clutch her rib cage as if someone had hit her.
Excerpted from The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt. Copyright © 2014 by Siri Hustvedt. Excerpted by permission of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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