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Reviews 155 Abandoned House by Susan Fawcett. Hainesport, N.J.: Silver Apples Press, 1988. unpaginated , $3.00 (paper). The River ofHeaven by Garrett Hongo. New York: Knopf, 1988. pp. 67. $8.95 (paper). Susan Fawcett charts various ways in which power relations in the family manifest themselves and individuals face diminishment, sometimes resourcefully, at other times selfdestructively . Fawcett's debut volume, Abandoned House, couples lucid, incisive imagery with impressive psychological acuity. In her family chronicles, parental distancing is a source of parental power over a more verbally oriented child who yearns for the articulation of significant emotion. "The Diver," for instance, presents a father recovering from a devastating family tragedy by cutting himself off from the other survivors through a ''sport" that returns him to the scene of the tragedy: After the drowning of his firstborn son my father learned to dive— deep, in a thick black rubber suit with tanks to breathe for him in the dark quarries of Ohio. He'd flipper and fin, ogling fish, the rusting hulks of cars lying marvelously on their doors in green prismatic swaying tons of water, truly aquamarine— like the stone I wear upon my throat, this tiny block of stopped sea water, my charm against the drowned. The father's striving for insulation, exemplified by the "thick black rubber suit," is not castigated but understood as a desperate form of self-protection, as well as a lyrical (' 'green prismatic swaying") adventure. The speaker even implies a degree of complicity in mentioning "the stone... upon [her] throat" as a "charm against the drowned." The poem continues: Was my father learning not to loathe his own competence or blame his son for dying—bumbler, violator of natural laws whose gut was gripped by ice cold springs, who bobbed, predictably, three times, went down? In the effort to empathize with her father, the speaker recognizes, mingled with the attempt to ward off the massive impact ofgrief, the need to move past the irrational but powerful impulse of rage, to "blame the victim" rather than acknowledge random forces that render human beings helpless. The poem's concluding strophes shuttle hauntingly between the poles of presence and disappearance, approach and avoidance, intimacy and withdrawal: After the comedy of salvation, after strangers pulled my brother from the weeds and laid him face up on the bank, the water pooling in his throat, after they botched the resurrection— resuscitator ill-assembled, never used— my father disappeared into his grief. He went down 156 the minnesota review hand over hand on the small ladder, down zone by zone of cold, searching the bottom, examining the fish who hung there, cold-blooded, stupid, graceful as angels drifting to his mask, torn as he was, between curiosity and fear. He never spoke about these journeys, how he disappeared into the water and came back, but over and over he came back, permitting me to fill his arms. Although the most crucial attempt at "resurrection" is "botched," the father enacts his own pale version of it, and the writer's precise, evocative description engenders another repetition (with a difference). The absence caused by the father's refusal to convert the experience of his "disappearance" into words—and his deliberate assumption of the distancing "mask"—is breached by the written "presence" of his daughter's imaginative reconstruction of that experience, which announces its secondary (or even tertiary) status: "He never spoke..." Does the embrace of father and daughter in the poem's closing lines signify an end to isolation (wiUful "disappearance" after tragic disappearance) and the recuperation of intimacy? This is doubtful, because the poet's choice of the gerund "permitting" (as opposed to, say, "inviting") may signal the father's wariness of intimacy, his reluctance to give himself to it rather than granting it intermittently as a form of parental largesse. Besides poems concerned with the dynamics of family, Abandoned House features deft social satire such as "Woolworth's with Jesus," in which "a convex mirror beams like God the Father/spotting shoplifters, reflecting His daughters/plump yet diminished as they ascend ," the grimly determined, literally self-sacrificing persona of "The Anorexic"—"see how my bones/gleam through the skin Uke...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 155-159
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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