- Based on a True Story
fort lee, nj: cavenkerry press, 2013. 88pages, paper, $16.00.
boise, id: ahsahta press, 2013. 170pages, paper, $20.00.
minneapolis: coffee house press, 2014. 152pages, paper, $16.95.
Young Tambling by Kate Greenstreet takes its title from a sixteenth-century Scottish ballad in which a young woman called either Janet or Margaret (depending on which version you read, for there are many tellings of this tale) wanders into the woods, plucks a double rose, and is immediately confronted with a handsome young man who demands to know why she thinks she can pick roses without his leave. She answers that they’re her woods—her father gave them to her—so she doesn’t need his leave. In response, he has sex with her without asking her leave. When the deed is done, she turns to ask “her true love’s name,” but he’s already gone. Soon she realizes she’s pregnant and returns to the woods for a bitter herb to induce an abortion—and there he is again. He asks, “why do that when you could have the baby, and me, and a whole new life” (3).
Turns out that Young Tambling—also known as Tam Lin or Lyn or Line or Lane or even Tom Linn or Tomlin—has been kidnapped by the [End Page 195] queen of the fairies and needs help escaping. To take him safely back to his world and her own, Margaret/Janet must drag him off a horse when he rides past her in a fairy parade at midnight on Halloween, then hold him fast as the fairies turn him into all manner of vicious beasts. When he finally turns into a naked man, she covers him with her cloak, knowing she has saved the father of her child and bested the evil queen.
Greenstreet’s Young Tambling, door of thin skins by Shira Dentz, and You Animal Machine (The Golden Greek) by Eleni Sikelianos are cross-genre memoirs about trying to hold onto slippery, dangerous things—the truth, stories, identity, loved ones—even as they slither, squirm, and metamorphose after having their way with you and leaving you fundamentally changed. The works these writers have constructed are likewise hard to hold onto. They do not proceed “As if realism = truthfulness” (120) in Greenstreet’s words; the truth resides not just in verifiable events but also in the slipperiness of those events and the frustration that results from trying and failing to grasp them. Fail to convey that frustration, and you fail to convey the truth.
The table of contents of Greenstreet’s book lists six sections, most about 30 pages long. Each section is composed of prose, verse, and black-and-white photography, generally of paintings. Individual works are typically untitled, and even when titles are provided, they’re not listed in the table of contents, supporting the sense that discrete components don’t matter nearly as much as the whole to which they contribute.
Despite beginning with a fairy story, the book is grounded in the real—though not, as I mentioned, in realism. Truth, coherence, consistency might elude us, and we might find ways to enter worlds other than our own, but here that sort of imaginative effort is not the same as escapism:
We shouldn’t tell ourselves stories. about a better world
It’s just a life. What you find around you(49)
The stories here are all about this world and the lives we find around ourselves. The back of the book announces simply that the work is “Based on a [End Page 196] true story”—or, more accurately, true stories. If “Young Tambling” is not a true story, Greenstreet’s hearing it for the first time seems to be. Same for her story of getting a job at a dry cleaners, a place where “although I interacted with people, I didn’t have to try to be one of them. It was different from school that way” (35–36). When business is slow, the...