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The Vet's Daughter—Essential Surrealist Reading
Published in 1959 and written in an offbeat style similar to Robert Walser but even stranger, Comyns walks the line between harsh reality and neon-colored dream when Alice learns she can levitate. When her father discovers her powers, he imagines the lucrative possibilities, and the book ends with a struggle between escapist dream and bruise-worthy reality with room for only one outcome.
“Mammy had always looked and been rather vague, she had a kind of gypsophilia mind, all little bits and pieces held together by whisps, now she grew vaguer still and talked with a high floating voice, leaving her sentences half finished or with a wave of her hand she would add on 'and so forth' which was a favourite expression.”—Barbara Comyns from Sisters by a River
After reading Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead, a really interesting Barbara Comyns novel from 1954 that was recently reprinted in a gorgeous edition with a Brian Evenson intro, I looked up the publisher. It turns out that Dorothy is a super cool publishing project by Danielle Dutton, an author and a book designer for Dalkey Archive. Awesome, right? And Bomb has an awesome interview with her, that includes her answering the question And for those of us who would like to know, would you give a mini-syllabus of women writers who deserve more attention? Omg I’m going to have to comb through her answer so carefully and add so much shit to my list. Thrilling.
I’m drawn to so many writers, most of whom deserve more attention because most good writers do. For example, Georges Perec, Renee Gladman, Kathy Acker, Diane Williams, Clarice Lispector, Robert Glück. I do find that I return habitually to a few, particularly Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, and Jane Austen. And I tend to teach a lot of experimental women writers in my classes, from Woolf and Stein to Pamela Lu and Selah Saterstrom and Bernadette Mayer. A few books I haven’t taught but plan to: Bhanu Kapil’s Humanimal, Dodie Bellamy’s Academonia, Orly Castel-Bloom’s Dolly City, Tisa Bryant’s Unexplained Presence, Amina Cain’s I Go to Some Hollow, Micheline Aharonian Marcom’s The Mirror in the Well, Marguerite Duras’ The Ravishing of Lol Stein, Jaimy Gordon’s Bogeywoman. There are many factors that inform my interests, some of them political and some aesthetic or theoretical, but finally the interest in publishing women just is, it’s personal, as is the project. In fact, the press is named for my great-aunt Dorothy, who was a librarian in southern California starting in the 1940s and who was, as I remember her, a quiet, somewhat grave, and (to me) rather mysterious single lady with a rose garden and modern art on her walls who gave me a book every year on my birthday.
The Old Doctors’ wife said my face was the shape of a dish—a dish the wrong way round, I looked in the mirror and it was, just like the breakfast dish of bacon and eggs that appeared most mornings. I couldn’t bear to look at it any more, my face or the dish. I still feel shy of the shape of my face although its altered now.
Barbara Comyns, Sisters by a River