Lee and Elaine
Published by Serpent's Tail
Published on: March 2002
7.8 x 5.1 cm
The cover of another American writer, Ann Rower's, eminently skippable book, Lee&Elaine, announces it to be High Risk, whilst the press release curiously claims it "features real dialogue (from taped interviews) with Barbara Streisand, Francis Ford Coppola and Claus Oldenburg". This a writer who cannot decide whether to write clit lit for art babes or rite of passage reportage. A woman writer takes a winter rental in East Hampton, near the Green River cemetery where many of America's famous 50s Abstract Expressionists are buried. Middle-aged, escaping her dull marriage, she sets out to 'explore' her repressed lesbian side. Obsessed with the cemetery, she decides to write a book in which Lee Krasner and Elaine De Kooning - the wives of Jackson Pollock and Willem De Kooning – come back as ghosts and lesbian lovers. The fact that these women had no discernable relationship in real life seems to be of only minimal concern to Rower. This potentially interesting story turns out merely to be the backdrop to the sort of drab fiction published by women's presses in the early 70s, when certain imprints published almost anything deemed 'relevant' by a woman, bringing to mind Dr. Johnson's famous remark about women preachers; that like dogs walking on their hind legs, what seemed to be surprising was that they could do it at all.
Rower's most favoured literary devise is the pun: "I wanted to write. Right" "To know. No." and, as Lee says "I can't believe I've been dead for years." "For years," Elaine answers. This is a book full of scented 'tranquillity' candles and undiluted creative writing exercises – our heroine, of course, teaches a creative writing class. There is also a little light lesbian bondage, no doubt to justify the High Risk label, but very little about Lee&Elaine. Jason Hook, an archivist and one of Rower's own characters voices the most astute criticism. "It's the stupidest thing I ever heard of. What are you writing? A romance novel? Fiction? You don't go around making assumptions … .You are no writer. You haven't done any background, you haven't read anything, you know nothing about the situation, you don't even know if you like their work." If only Rower had listened to him and done the work – now that would have been an interesting book.
Content and Texts © Sue Hubbard 2002
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