Synopses & Reviews
When Jessa Crispin was thirty, she burned her settled Chicago life to the ground and took off for Berlin with a pair of suitcases and no plan beyond leaving. Half a decade later, she’s still on the road, in search not so much of a home as of understanding, a way of being in the world that demands neither constant struggle nor complete surrender.
The Dead Ladies Project is an account of that journey—but it’s also much, much more. Fascinated by exile, Crispin travels an itinerary of key locations in its literary map, of places that have drawn writers who needed to break free from their origins and start afresh. As she reflects on William James struggling through despair in Berlin, Nora Barnacle dependant on and dependable for James Joyce in Trieste, Maud Gonne fomenting revolution and fostering myth in Dublin, or Igor Stravinsky starting over from nothing in Switzerland, Crispin interweaves biography, incisive literary analysis, and personal experience into a rich meditation on the complicated interactions of place, personality, and society that can make escape and reinvention such an attractive, even intoxicating proposition.
Personal and profane, funny and fervent, The Dead Ladies Project ranges from the nineteenth century to the present, from historical figures to brand-new hangovers, in search, ultimately, of an answer to a bedrock question: How does a person decide how to live their life?
"Suppose you could have for a traveling companion a changeling, someone who 'came to this planet as an already fully formed creature,' someone who’s looking for reasons to keep herself alive and is devoting every last particle of herself, body and soul, to this endeavor, who is willing to tell you every last thing that passes through her extraordinary mind as she takes you (for instance) to visit Berlin, Trieste, Sarajevo, Nora Barnacle, Rebecca West, Claude Cahun, who wants more than anything to make you 'take in the whole canvas without choosing, without discriminating'--wouldn’t you be beside yourself to have this fascinating creature beside you? I’d follow Jessa Crispin to the ends of the earth."
"Crispin is both smart enough to know there are no answers, and human enough to admit she needs them; her resulting travelogue is a phenomenal record of the mind in service (maybe) of the heart."
"Read with caution: midway through The Dead Ladies Project you’ll be wanting to pack a suitcase and give away your possessions. Crispin is funny, sexy, self-lacerating, and politically attuned, with unique slants on literary criticism, travel writing, and female journeys. No one crosses genres, borders, and proprieties with more panache."
"Jessa Crispin is trying to heal the rift between us regular people and the heroic age of art. The Dead Ladies Project, a dazzling literary travelogue, a series of un-bookish, wildly refined meditations on books and artists, is also the intimate record of a personal crisis. Art matters here in a way likely to scare Americans almost as much as they deserve. Crispin travels the Europe of the canon, of dead white men, studying its entrails. Both Viking and monk, she can write with a barbarian's romantic peremptoriness or with the withering self-containment of a philosopher. She rolls her eyes at the monotony of history's public face and throws everything in the story--including the put-upon mistresses forced to pinch pennies, the tampons, unwieldy suitcases, tedious dates and crying jags. But if these linked essays are written with a literary arsonist’s urgency, they are also full of a very rare reverence for art that matters. Interested in what the life of an artist really has to involve? Quit your MFA program and read this wonderful book!"
"Tracing a pilgrimage of sorts across Europe to places where artistic couples mostly came to grief, Jessa Crispin confronts in searing personal terms the problem not just of being but of being with someone else. It is an unsettling and unforgettable journey."--John Biguenet
"Unusual and absorbing. . . . Swift intelligence, fierce empathy, and dark humor."
"Mordant wit and a dash of bravado. . . . An eloquently thought-provoking memoir."
Jessa Crispins first book--a work of literary nonfiction about drifters. Crispins own peregrinations and rootlessness are legendary to the bloggers many fans and readers. As Crispin sees it, the problem with most books about drifters is that they do not understand, or really get at, the longing of someone without a permanent address. Crispin investigates the energy created between person and place, using her own search for a new home and a string of fascinating personalities that have always captured her fancy. Together with her dead ladies Crispin visits the places that were important to them (Paris, Berlin, Trieste, London, Moscow, Sarajevo), and that become important to her, too. These chapters, each devoted to a single person, are filled with ghosts and literature and history, but they are equally alive with the sights and smells and sounds of today.
About the Author
Jessa Crispin is the editor and founder of the magazines Bookslut and Spolia. She has written for the New York Times, Guardian, Washington Post, Los Angeles Review of Books, NPR.org, Chicago Sun-Times, Architect Magazine, and other publications. She has lived in Kansas, Texas, Ireland, Chicago, Berlin, and elsewhere.