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Original Essays | September 15, 2014

Lois Leveen: IMG Forsooth Me Not: Shakespeare, Juliet, Her Nurse, and a Novel



There's this writer, William Shakespeare. Perhaps you've heard of him. He wrote this play, Romeo and Juliet. Maybe you've heard of it as well. It's... Continue »

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The Summer without Men

by

The Summer without Men Cover

 

 

Excerpt

Sometime after he said the word pause, I went mad and landed in the hospital. He did not say I dont ever want to see you again or Its over, but after thirty years of marriage pause was enough to turn me into a lunatic whose thoughts burst, ricocheted, and careened into one another like popcorn kernels in a microwave bag. I made this sorry observation as I lay on my bed in the South Unit, so heavy with Haldol I hated to move. The nasty rhythmical voices had grown softer, but they hadnt disappeared, and when I closed my eyes I saw cartoon characters racing across pink hills and disappearing into blue forests. In the end, Dr. P. diagnosed me with Brief Psychotic Disorder, also known as Brief Reactive Psychosis, which means that you are genuinely crazy but not for long. If it goes on for more than one month, you need another label. Apparently, theres often a trigger or, in psychiatric parlance, "a stressor," for this particular form of derangement. In my case, it was Boris or, rather, the fact that there was no Boris, that Boris was having his pause. They kept me locked up for a week and a half, and then they let me go. I was an outpatient for a while before I found Dr. S., with her low musical voice, restrained smile, and good ear for poetry. She propped me up—still props me up, in fact.

I dont like to remember the madwoman. She shamed me. For a long time, I was reluctant to look at what she had written in a black-and- white notebook during her stay on the ward. I knew what was scrawled on the outside in handwriting that looked nothing like mine, Brain shards, but I wouldnt open it. I was afraid of her, you see. When my girl came to visit, Daisy hid her unease. I dont know exactly what she saw, but I can guess: a woman gaunt from not eating, still confused, her body wooden from drugs, a person who couldnt respond appropriately to her daughters words, who couldnt hold her own child. And then, when she left, I heard her moan to the nurse, the noise of a sob in her throat: "Its like its not my mom." I was lost to myself then, but to recall that sentence now is an agony. I do not forgive myself.

The Pause was French with limp but shiny brown hair. She had signi?cant breasts that were real, not manufactured, narrow rect- angular glasses, and an excellent mind. She was young, of course, twenty years younger than I was, and my suspicion is that Boris had lusted after his colleague for some time before he lunged at her signi?cant regions. I have pictured it over and over. Boris, snow-white locks falling onto his forehead as he grips the bosom of said Pause near the cages of genetically modi?ed rats. I always see it in the lab, although this is probably wrong. The two of them were rarely alone there, and the "team" would have noticed noisy grappling in their midst. Perhaps they took refuge in a toilet stall, my Boris pounding away at his fellow scientist, his eyes moving upward in their sockets as he neared explosion. I knew all about it. I had seen his eyes roll thousands of times. The banality of the story—the fact that it is repeated every day ad nauseam by men who discover all at once or gradually that what IS does not HAVE TO BE and then act to free themselves from the aging women who have taken care of them and their children for years—does not mute the misery, jealousy, and humiliation that comes over those left behind. Women scorned. I wailed and shrieked and beat the wall with my fists. I frightened him. He wanted peace, to be left alone to go his own way with the well-mannered neuro- scientist of his dreams, a woman with whom he had no past, no freighted pains, no grief, and no con?ict. And yet he said pause, not stop, to keep the narrative open, in case he changed his mind. A cruel crack of hope. Boris, the Wall. Boris, who never shouts. Boris shaking his head on the sofa, looking discom?ted. Boris, the rat man who married a poet in 1979. Boris, why did you leave me?

I had to get out of the apartment because being there hurt. The rooms and furniture, the sounds from the street, the light that shone into my study, the toothbrushes in the small rack, the bedroom closet with its missing knob—each had become like a bone that ached, a joint or rib or vertebrae in an articulated anatomy of shared memory, and each familiar thing, leaden with the accumulated meanings of time, seemed to weigh in my own body, and I found I could not bear them. And so I left Brooklyn and went home for the summer to the backwater town on what used to be the prairie in Minnesota, out where I had grown up. Dr. S. was not against it. We would have telephone sessions once a week except during August, when she took her usual vacation. The University had been "understanding" about my crack-up, and I would return to teaching in September. This was to be the Yawn between Crazed Winter and Sane Fall, an uneventful hollow to fill with poems. I would spend time with my mother and put flowers on my fathers grave. My sister and Daisy would come for visits, and I had been hired to teach a poetry class for kids at the local Arts Guild. "Award-Winning Home-Grown Poet Offers Workshop" ran a headline in the Bonden News. The Doris P. Zimmer Award for Poetry is an obscure prize that dropped down on my head from nowhere, offered exclusively to a woman whose work falls under the rubric "experimental." I had accepted this dubious honor and the check that accompanied it graciously but with private reservations only to find that ANY prize is better than none, that the term "award-winning" offers a useful, if purely decorative gloss on the poet who lives in a world that knows nothing of poems. As John Ashbery once said, "Being a famous poet is the not the same thing as being famous." And I am not a famous poet.

I rented a small house at the edge of town not far from my mothers apartment in a building exclusively for the old and the very old. My mother lived in the independent zone. Despite arthritis and various other complaints, including occasional bursts of dangerously high blood pressure, she was remarkably spry and clear-headed at eighty-seven. The complex included two other distinct zones—for those who needed help, "assisted living," and the "care center," the end of the line. My father had died there six years earlier and, although I had once felt a tug to return and look at the place again, I had gotten no farther than the entryway before I turned around and fled from the paternal ghost.

"I havent told anybody here about your stay in the hospital," my mother said in an anxious voice, her intense green eyes holding mine. "No one has to know."

I shall forget the drop of Anguish

that scalds me now—that scalds me now!

Emily Dickinson No. #193 to the rescue. Address: Amherst. Lines and phrases winged their way into my head all summer long. "If a thought without a thinker comes along," Wilfred Bion said, "it may be what is a ‘stray thought or it could be a thought with the owners name and address upon it, or it could be a ‘wild thought. The problem, should such a thing come along, is what to do with it."

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Teresa Borden, January 23, 2012 (view all comments by Teresa Borden)
This is not your usual older man who leaves longtime wife for a younger woman tale. This quirky, engaging story has many facets, not the least of which is the older woman met during the summer hiatus who weaves hidden subversive messages into her embroidery. A tale of transformation and redemption. Highly recommended.
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Curtis Martin, October 4, 2011 (view all comments by Curtis Martin)
Thanks for introducing me to a new author. I will certainly have to check her out. :-)
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780312570606
Author:
Hustvedt, Siri
Publisher:
Picador USA
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Subject:
Contemporary Women
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20110431
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Includes 5 line drawings throughout
Pages:
192
Dimensions:
8.26 x 5.72 x 0.56 in

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Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

The Summer without Men Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
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Product details 192 pages Picador - English 9780312570606 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Smart, wry, engaging, and affecting, The Summer without Men is a triumph. The narrator's voice is utterly distinctive, and her mind is a joy to inhabit. A must for Hustvedt fans, and if you haven't read her before, you're missing out on one of America's best contemporary novelists.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "A theatrically manic poet turns heartbreak into an intellectual endeavor in Hustvedt's intellectually spry latest (after The Sorrows of an American). Fresh out of the hospital at age 55 following a breakdown brought on by her husband's departure for a young colleague referred to as 'The Pause,' award-winning poet and Columbia professor Mia Fredricksen flees Brooklyn to spend the summer in her Minnesota hometown. There she is in the company of her mother and four other feisty old ladies, the young mother next door, and the seven hormone-addled pubescent girls enrolled in her poetry class at the local arts guild. Mia sorts out her agony as only a scorned woman with a Ph.D. in comparative literature can — by pouring it through a sieve of poets, philosophers, and critical theorists. At times these references eclipse the presence of the narrator herself, but even this absence becomes the basis for philosophical rumination, as Mia corresponds online with the anonymous — and at times abusive — Mr. Nobody. Though initially trapped in a claustrophobic cerebral solitude, Mia opens up, and, in so doing, lets in some much needed air to a constricted narrative, so that instead of being another novel of a woman on the brink, this becomes an adroit take on love, men and women, and girls and women. (May)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"Review" by , “I think I am in love....This is one of the most profound and absorbing books I have read in a long time.”
"Review" by , “The pages turn themselves. The old story, the search for the self, holds water once again.”
"Review" by , “Superb...a page turner … serious but witty, large-minded and morally engaged.”
"Review" by , “Frequently dazzling...truly memorable.” (London)
"Review" by , “Passionate...enlightening.”
"Review" by , “Masterful.” (UK)
"Synopsis" by ,
"And who among us would deny Jane Austen her happy endings or insist that Cary Grant and Irene Dunne should get back together at the end of The Awful Truth? There are tragedies and there are comedies, aren't there? And they are often more the same than different, rather like men and women, if you ask me. A comedy depends on stopping the story at exactly the right moment."
 
Mia Fredrickson, the wry, vituperative, tragic comic, poet narrator of The Summer Without Men, has been forced to reexamine her own life. One day, out of the blue, after thirty years of marriage, Mias husband, a renowned neuroscientist, asks her for a “pause.” This abrupt request sends her reeling and lands her in a psychiatric ward. The June following Mias release from the hospital, she returns to the prairie town of her childhood, where her mother lives in an old peoples home. Alone in a rented house, she rages and fumes and bemoans her sorry fate. Slowly, however, she is drawn into the lives of those around her—her mother and her close friends,“the Five Swans,” and her young neighbor with two small children and a loud angry husband—and the adolescent girls in her poetry workshop whose scheming and petty cruelty carry a threat all their own.

From the internationally bestselling author of What I Loved comes a provocative, witty, and revelatory novel about women and girls, love and marriage, and the age-old question of sameness and difference between the sexes.

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