cover image Enter the Body

Enter the Body

Joy McCullough. Dutton, $18.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-5934-0675-5

Focusing primarily on Cordelia, Juliet, and Ophelia, McCullough (Great or Nothing) excavates the inner lives of William Shakespeare’s most famous tragic heroines in this absorbing experimental novel in verse. Beneath the trap door of a theater, the characters—portrayed as ghosts—share their secrets and traumas with one another while waiting to be resurrected to embody their assigned roles and die on stage each night. The author addresses the absent mothers and lack of education the women faced throughout their lives, as well as their roles as scapegoats for the poor behavior of their stories’ male leads, through assorted methods. Wrenching poetic monologues (“Mother found/ less love than I/ in the House of Capulet”), script pages of illuminating dialogue (“I have a question?” Juliet asks Cordelia, who responds, “Oh. We’re talking now?”), and prose that briefly foregrounds a larger contemporary world beyond the trap door (“the audience stretches, unwraps candy, checks their phones”) provide searing, if occasionally pedantic, commentary on the women’s portrayal as docile figures. Via varied signature poetic styles and cadences, such as Cordelia’s traditional iambic pentameter and Juliet’s short staccato bursts, the women question their desires and sexual identities, and together process their individual traumas. Ages 14–up. Agent: Jim McCarthy, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. (Mar.)