cover image Heroines


Kate Zambreno. Semiotext(e) (MIT, dist.), $17.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-58435-114-6

Zambreno (Green Girl) carries out a literary lightning raid against what remains, in her view, the boys’ club of canonical American and modernist literature. An author of two novels, she constructs a loose-jointed fusion of feminist literary criticism and personal memoir that draws on her other writerly identity, as the proprietor of the blog Frances Farmer Is My Sister. Amid recollections of early married life—which see the underemployed Zambreno’s moves, from Chicago to London to Akron, Ohio, dictated by her husband John’s academic career—she interpolates the stories of her pantheon of literary idols. With an unabashedly fannish voice, Zambreno pays tribute to the oft-ignored, and sometimes ill-fated, “wives and mistresses” of notable male writers. Famed writers Anaïs Nin and Jean Rhys figure into the book’s personal mythology, but so do Vivienne Eliot and Zelda Fitzgerald, whose marginal status Zambreno passionately opposes in her accounts of their life and art. Zambreno’s form deliberately evokes the fleeting, fragmented nature of online communication: one passage astutely comments on Mary McCarthy just below a note claiming “I buy a NARS lipgloss called Orgasm.” She ends with a tribute to her fellow literary bloggers, issuing a powerful clarion call for a supportive community of female writers who will fixate on their own experiences without shame and reject the “measuring rod” of the “Great American (Male) Novelist.” (Nov.)