Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Widening - A novel by Carol Moldaw - Published by Etruscan Press

Friday evening I was having dinner with friends at the Rosetta Stone in downtown Youngstown when local poet, Phil Brady, joined us. Phil Brady is a professor of English at Youngstown State University and executive director of Etruscan Press. His poetry and fiction have appeared in over fifty journals in the United States and Ireland. This evening he was in an exceptionally jovial mood. He revealed the source of his mirth when he removed from his bag several copies of a new release from Etruscan Press.

The new release is a short work of fiction titled The Widening. It is written by Carol Moldaw. Phil gave me a copy of the book and many years of habit lead me to immediately give the book the first line test: I read, “At the crucial moment she said yes. His hand in the back pocket of her jeans had made her wet – but nothing and no one had prepared her.” In that instant I understood Phil’s excitement about the book and was drawn in by the bold first line.

By Saturday afternoon I closed the book on the last page. Later in the afternoon as I ran errands and visited with several people, lines and images from the book would float to the surface of my mind. The book was not only haunting me, but I couldn't’ seem to escape an underlying feeling of anger; directed at what I couldn't immediately say. It was anger as low-grade fever, symptomatic but undiagnosed.

A blurb on the back of the book by Robert Olen Butler, states, “I dare say that women readers of Carol Moldaw’s The Widening, will be thrilled at the recognition of self that art can bring - the shared experience given articulate voice.” I dare say Butler is correct about the recognition of self. However, I would not say that I was “thrilled” at this recognition. Rather, I felt jarred as if hit by an unexpected blow. Hence, my unexplained feeling of anger.

Carol Moldaw, lays bare that which I believe most women hide even from themselves. Her divulgatory prose unveils her unnamed protagonist’s vulnerability and strength, while peeling back layers of universal female consciousness and exposing “the widening” of feminine experience. The following is but one passage that exemplifies this;

“She had vowed once never to feel shame, shame was too shameful to let one feel, too fraught with unexamined mores, but there it was, along with an unaccountable fear, cordoning her off. The past, she thought, was like malaria inside you, always able without warning to reduce your entire self to shivers and shakes, to delirium.”

The protagonist,as a psychiatrist surmises after one session with her, is promiscuous and privileged. Promiscuity and privilege are major themes throughout the book. Even the subject’s father broaches the subject of promiscuity with her. He reveals a conviction that promiscuous people are unhappy people.

“The only thing he wondered was whether they were promiscuous because they were unhappy or unhappy because they were promiscuous? Never considering, she thought to herself, that perhaps they weren’t unhappy at all.”

Moldaw leads us through an intricate labyrinth of sexual discovery in this work. The reader exits this labyrinth with new questions.

Carol Moldaw is the author of four books of poetry and is the recipient of a Lannan Foundation Marfa Writer’s Residency, a Pushcart Prize, and a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship. The YSU Poetry Center is bringing Carol Moldaw and Allison Funk, to the Debartolo Club in Stambaugh Auditorium on April 15, 2008,at 7:00 for a reading of their work. I hope to see you there.

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