It's the Thoughts That Count
These aren't holiday books; these are books to give people during the holidays, as gifts
To Essay MeaningIn her new book, Splendored Thing: Love, Roses, & Other Thorny Treasures (Seal Press, $19.95), feminist writer and thinker Bia Lowe presents a memoir-laced compendium of love's risks, rewards, and reveries. After years of serial monogamy, Lowe finds herself falling anew. She knows this time is for keeps when her lover, pseudo-named "Rose," presents her with the surprise gift of an Irish cottage. What does Lowe do in her new state of enchantment and terror? She looks up at the stars and "constellates," seeing in their bright pinpricks the familiar shape of the Big Dipper or Drinking Gourd. "This is the reason I write," she says, "to aggregate disparate elements, to configure a similarity, to essay meaning." How disparate? To Lowe, the world's many splendored things offer wisdom: fairy tales ("Hansel and Gretel," "Red Riding Hood," "Beauty and the Beast"), saliva, Sara Lee coffee cake, a homunculous (an illustration of the human body with proportions drawn according to each part's sensitivity), Mr. Ed, Helen Keller, Buster Keaton, jazz standards, roses, zoos, prehistoric fish, snails, worms, chromosomes, Old Yeller, mother's milk, apples, and the Irish famine.
Among ponderings of these and other topics, a narrative emerges beginning with the most personal (love and sex and fear) to the somewhat less so in the form of a neighboring Irish family whom the lesbian couple befriends. Despite their cultural differences (best captured when the women invite the Irish over for lamb stew, and the guests find the carefully prepared meal uncooked), the neighbors fashion a relationship based on the old standbys: mutual respect and understanding. Enlarging the story, Lowe adds a more global palette -- a photograph of a Bangladeshi woman hideously scarred by someone who attacked her with acid, and a perilous visit with Rose (apparently a journalist) to Istanbul, where the two get lost and fear for their safety among men who appear to be Islamic fundamentalists -- which can only, in these times, lead to one place.
The final chapter, "Dust," begins with Lowe's own September 11 story (she was in Long Island that morning and had been working in the towers the week before). Here Lowe explores how one's memory of a catastrophe is formed, a picture in the mind's eye that may not be based on facts but is more true than them. Joining others seeking curiosity and something much deeper, Lowe visits "The Pile" the morning that the nearest subway station reopens. Seeing names written in the dust that still coats everything, Lowe is reminded of "the Neolithic handprints in the caves of Southern France. Some things never change. How intimate to trace your name through the residue of three thousand people." When Lowe visits Afghanistan just months after the terrorist attacks, she writes: "This place is brutal, bruised and moldering. Yet it percolates, delights, extends its hands."