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Vita Nova by Louise Glück Ecco Press, 1999, 51 pp., $22 In Vita Nova, Louise Glück ventures openly and gleefully into self-parody. Her trademark spareness is still there, and serves her well in seU-consciously sentimental poems such as "The Winged Horse," "Evening Prayers" and "Nest." Her economy of language is, as always, praiseworthy, as is her ability to evoke discreet shadings in mood and tone. But what I like best about Vita_ Nova is that Glück, whose work has always been sharp and witty, for the first time invites us in on the joke— all the jokes, in fact. While that chumminess can be strained at times, ifs a nice break from her usual deadpan delivery. We can't help but grin when, in an absurdly melodramatic gesture, the speaker of "Vita Nova" wails, "I thought my life was over and my heart was broken./Then I moved to Cambridge." Glück's last coUection, Meadowlands, was a funny book too, but it lacked the ironic distance her sly wit needs to operate properly. She's not a warm writer, but I think the point some readers miss is that she's not interested in being a warm writer. The cerebral tone of Glück's work has always challenged easy ideas about womanhood and femaleness. The impenetrable tightness of the poems in Vita Nova successfully defies the unspoken assumption that women's poetry ought to be fluid, sensitive, invested in the emotional catharsis of both reader and writer. Don't mistake Glück's invitation to laugh with her at the universal cruelties of fate and happenstance as an invitation to cry with her over her own private sorrows. Begging to be carried offon "my horseAbstraction," the speaker of "The Winged Horse" complains, "I am weary of my other mount/by Instinct out of Reality,/ color of dust, of disappointment." Repeatedly, Glück sets us up to expect confessional narratives and, repeatedly, she denies us absolution , comprehension, understanding. Instead we are left yearning with her, unsaved, unsatisfied, and unrepentantly catty about the confessional process. Where to locate Glück herself? In the book's final poem, Glück gives us a dream sequence about Blizzard, a dog that defies description, yet mysteriously suffers from many of Glück's own reported difficulties: "Supposing/I'm the dog, as in/ my child-self, unconsolable because/ completely pre-verbal? With/anorexia ! O Blizzard,/be a brave dog—this is/aU material; you'U wake up/in a different world, /you wiU eat again, you wiU grow up into a poet!"(MB) Evensong by Gail Godwin Ballantine, 1999, 405 pp., $25 As the miUennium draws to a close in High Balsam, North Carolina, Margaret Bonner, an Episcopal priest, is visited by three mysterious strangers who will enrich and change her life. First, there is Grace Munger (gracemonger?), who sweeps into town wearing her red cape, determined to lead a mUlennium birthday march for Jesus. Every church in the area, except Margaret's, agrees to join the fundamentalists in their The Missouri Review · 215 march, thus reinforcing the stereotype of Episcopalians as aloof and superior. Margaret's temptation to give in to Grace's demands is strong because High Balsam, a picturesque summer retreat for the wealthy, has already been rocked by violence between the haves and the have-nots. Margaret's second visitor is a peculiar old monk of questionable identity, wearing black Nikes beneath his habit and sporting orangish, dyed hair. A third visitor is a troubled youth, Chase Zorn, from the school at which Margaret's husband, another priest, teaches. The time of year is Advent and, given the season and the three visitors, one almost expects a baby to materialize out of all this. In this small-town Southern setting , a Flannery O'Connor-style confrontation between Margaret Bonner and Grace Munger would hardly surprise us, with the smug Episcopalians losing the most. In fact, both sides lose: Margarefs church goes up in flames, and Grace's march is a miserable flop, proving perhaps that God snows on both thejust and the unjust. The EpiscopaUans' measured, reasonable concept of grace does prevail throughout the...


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