The Dresser acknowledges that the following review is based on a book published by The Word Works.
As the cover art—Gertrude Abercrombie’s “Reverie,” a nighttime painting of a lone woman seated in an arid landscape—suggests, spinster for hire by Julia Story is a book about loneliness and terrifying isolation. Story presents an unimpeded flow—there are no communal groupings of these poems into sections—of frightening beings, things, and events: “a skull with light in it,” “a derelict hotel,” The Hulk, belief in demonic possession, “a long psychedelic rape scene,” “violent sleeping mammals.” Cues abound that Story is working in a Twilight Zone, a surreal environment where, for example, the toads of her toad circus are all found dead in a window well the day after the event. Did she kill them? Or did she feel responsible for their deaths?
Indiana Problem (Toad Circus)
The day after my toad circus the toads were all dead, crunchy and silent in their window well. I wanted to draw a doorway to walk through to get to the world of lilacs: purple, contagious green leaves and no movement but the steady invisible breathing of flowers. I knew I had to tell someone what I had done so I first walked to the park and stayed there until dusk, sitting on the glider or in the middle of the rusty and dangerous merry-go-round; I can’t remember which. When it was nearly dark I walked home, certain that they were worried and maybe even out looking for me. When I got there I saw them busy in the kitchen through the window, so I hid in the back yard until it was good and dark, a living thing on a swing set in the gloom, the attic in my head cracking open for the first time and I went in.
Throughout the book’s lyrical flow, numerous poems are marked by the state of Indiana:
Indiana Problem (Alone)
Indiana Problem (Toad Circus)
Indiana Problem (Three Dusks)
Indiana Problem (Three Steaks)
Indiana Problem (Fear, 1983)
Indiana Problem (Mousetrap)
Indiana Problem (Time)
Indiana Problem (A Lost Shuttlecock)
Indiana Problem (Mini Gym)
Indiana Problem (Dollhouse)
Indiana Problem (Covenant)
Indiana Problem (A John Yau)
Recently “Toad Circus” was published in The New Yorker (April 20, 2020) without mention of the Indiana Problem. When asked about the Indiana Problem, Story said these poems, scattered throughout the book, refer to her childhood.
The title poem “Spinster for Hire” tackles the evolution of life on our planet but this is elusive: “Invertebrates //of feeling swim slowly /away from me,” “I had nothing but a framed //photograph of a gibbon…” The speaker of the poem packs her things and moves to a new location. The line that grabs the Dresser’s full attention is “Now I live above the beauty /”. What beauty? Well, the word that comes next in the poem is “parlor.” So here is the spinster now living above a beauty parlor and she continues, “if you look up you can see // me in my window, one spot /of life in our hibernation, //our long orchard of silence.”
This is the book to ponder during the Covid19 isolation.