cover image The Lifting Dress

The Lifting Dress

Lauren Berry. Penguin, $16 (84p) ISBN 978-0-14-311965-4

In Berry's sometimes gripping debut, almost every page explores the danger, the allure, the violation, and the omnipresence of sex, in a society%E2%80%94in this case, the coastal Deep South%E2%80%94and in the life of a teenager, "The Just-Bled Girl," who is stuck in an abusive relationship (rape seems to be a component) with an adult she calls "Big Man." These characters and others without names%E2%80%94the mother, the father, a party-girl big sister%E2%80%94recur through first-person poems that weave the girl's story into provocative declarations about desire in general, about the paradoxical, vulnerable, alluring, liminal figures of female adolescence, about its countless double binds: "I watched a girl/ wake inside me/ with a throat like a hallway// where rich folks are introduced." Entering putatively adult spaces, given over to sex, the girl is a victim but an explorer, too: "Leaning on the car's trunk, I push against/ the places I'm never allowed into// and the perfume burns off my dress." Meanwhile the older generation simmers, or festers, or sets traps for the young: "Though I believe everyone has a mother,/ I don't know where mine went," Berry's girl opines, in a poem with the remarkable title "The Year My Father Mistook the Ocean for a Mistress." Some readers will likely find this debut too narrow; others%E2%80%94especially those who admire Sharon Olds%E2%80%94will see in its stylized dramas not only passion and sorrow but an irreplaceable truth. (June)