04 June 2008

Trade all your heroes in for ghosts*

I just finished Lady Lazarus by Andrew Foster Altschul. It is a very well written and intelligent book. At a minimum, make sure you know your famous dead poets and have some inkling of celebrity goings-on. And, even if you are not up on celebrity news - perhaps it might be better if you are not - there is still much to love and enjoy in this novel.

As the title suggests, there is a Plathian vibe through. Altschul borrows and adapts Plath, amongst others (T.S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, Anne Sexton, etc.) While this is creative (and he is responsible enough to attribute such instances where lines, themes, etc. were borrowed), I found the references to Plath's story in some ways to be weaker than his more original narrative. And certainly weaker than his dialogue, satire and critique of the sad obsessive ways in which we, the people, are fascinated by and feed off of celebrity lifestyles and gossip (including children who have fallen into wells). The weakness, I must add, is through no fault of the author, by any means.

Now, this is not a novel about Plath, but she is infused throughout. As the novel progresses, there is much less of a noticeable or referential reliance on the Plath legend, and this coincides with the story (unlike this review) improving in its readability. Nevertheless, Lady Lazarus is a very good book. Altschul reflects our own times masterfully; his imagery and dialogue are hard and unforgiving, and occasionally gruesome. But as the pages add up, his story-telling, humor, and originality really shine. And, just when things get to serious and/or heavy, to keep you on your toes he has some very memorable, comic characters to keep it real. By the end, everything comes together: the blood, the pain, the poetry, the music, the drugs, the psychoanalysis, the Buddhism, the biography, the violence, the mystery, and the Muse. If you are not brought to your knees by page 492, it is very possibly you, the reader, have no soul or, at a minimum, have no eye or mind for poetry. In this book of rock stars, drugs, suicides and poetry, it is the poetry of the writing lasts. And any one whose last name translates to "Old School" deserves to be read.

*A line from the Manic Street Preacher's song "Your love alone is not enough." This song is on their 2007 release Send Away the Tigers and features a duet with The Cardigans' Nina Persson. The Manic Street Preachers are fans of Sylvia Plath, too. Check out their song "Faster" and "The Girl Who Wanted to be God."

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Publications & Acknowledgements

  • BBC Four.A Poet's Guide to Britain: Sylvia Plath. London: BBC Four, 2009. (Acknowledged in)
  • Biography: Sylvia Plath. New York: A & E Television Networks, 2005. (Photographs used)
  • Connell, Elaine. Sylvia Plath: Killing the angel in the house. 2d ed. Hebden Bridge: Pennine Pens, 1998. (Acknowledged in)
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 3." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 119-138.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012: 11-56.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past." Plath Profiles 6. Summer 2013: 27-62.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • Death Be Not Proud: The Graves of Poets. New York: Poets.org. (Photographs used)
  • Doel, Irralie, Lena Friesen and Peter K. Steinberg. "An Unacknowledged Publication by Sylvia Plath." Notes & Queries 56:3. September 2009: 428-430.
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Helle, Anita Plath. The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. (Photographs used, acknowledged in)
  • Helle, Anita. "Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory". Feminist Studies 31:3. Fall 2005: 631-652.. (Acknowledged in)
  • Holden, Constance. "Sad Poets' Society." Science Magazine. 27 July 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women, Motion Picture. Directed by Rachel Talbot. Brookline (Mass.): Jewish Women's Archive, 2007. (Photograph used)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Karen V. Kukil. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. (Acknowledged in)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath. London: Faber, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • Plath, Sylvia. Glassklokken. Oslo: De norske Bokklubbene, 2004. (Photograph used on cover)
  • Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Writers and Their Works). Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008.. (Images provided)
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'I Should Be Loving This': Sylvia Plath's 'The Perfect Place' and The Bell Jar." Plath Profiles 1. Summer 2008: 253-262.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "This is a Celebration: A Festschrift for The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3 Supplement. Fall 2010: 3-14.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "A Perfectly Beautiful Time: Sylvia Plath at Camp Helen Storrow." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 149-166.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Proof of Plath." Fine Books & Collections 9:2. Spring 2011: 11-12.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.