Book Reviewlet: Spiotta Squared (not Square!)

I’m writing another essay for the Gale American Writers series, this one on Dana Spiotta: bard of hidden histories, sane conspiracy, and minor fame.

Bard of Los Angeles.

So I read Innocents and Others, along with Lightning Field, and I got wrapped in both like the hairs in a brush or the tiny gift deceptively padded with tissue paper to fill a TV box, or the simile in a comedy rule of three blog post sentence.

I&O is about three women: Meadow Mori, a formalist documentary filmmaker, Carrie Wexler, her middlebrow hit filmmaking childhood friend, and Jelly, a woman whose relationship to Hollywood is both deeper and more vexed than theirs.

Jelly cold calls Hollywood men from her Syracuse apartment and draws them into intimate phone relationships.

There’s a fourth woman, too, a mother in jail, thumbscrewing the book’s ethics discourse to a nearly medieval degree.

The novel is an ode to analogue tech. Phones and movies. Sound and vision. And a sustained inquisition about the morality of human relationships.

LF is about two women: Lorene, a concept restauranteuse and her ex’s little sister, Mina, who’s also her friend and restaurant manager. Mina’s having some affairs. Lorene’s having some plastic surgery. Mina also has a mentally ill and institutionalized brother. That storyline works better now than the novel’s LA image culture anomie that feels a bit trite from our wizened perch 15 years later but that WOWED! Michiko Kakutani at the distant-feeling time of aught one.

These bookends of Spiotta’s work to date explore the limits of power that women scrabble to secure in a culture that values only some parts of them, only some of the time.

The latest novel feels like the “healing” hawked on Venice Beach or the Kabbalah Center: while Mina’s lover butterfly-pins her in front of his video camera, Meadow and Cassie are directors! Feminist directors!

Still, Meadow’s power as a director feels as compromised as Jelly’s: both women enact power over men by cultivating passivity. By drawing them out, listening, staying invisible. By being their mirror or moon.

The books show the stuckness of the 3d wave hypothesis that embodying feminine norms would help us. Sure, you can be a feminist in stilettos. Sure! But can you if your art is listening endlessly, all night long, to men talking about themselves while making your self invisible?

If not, what’s the difference between chubby, sight-impaired Jelly in a crap Syracuse apartment and slim, successful Meadow on IMDB? Or thin, ostentatiously white-skinned, breast-augmented Lorene, whose instincts about the depths of men earned her millions?

There’s lots of other good stuff that I’m saving for my essay. Media theory, disability, and some surprisingly unhip (but still omnipresent) crap about women hating their bodies.

And in a belated nod to those who thought this might be an actual review with actual advice about what to read: I like Innocents and Others a lot more. Unlike Ms Kakutani.

You should read it.


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3 thoughts on “Book Reviewlet: Spiotta Squared (not Square!)

  1. […] linked to this already but Beck decided that what Bowie covers REALLY need are lots and lots of […]

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