Today is December 14, 2017
The hill is a sheet of ice and it’s too cold to go out if you don’t have to. Yesterday I was struck by a provocative essay in Literary Hub by Emma C. Eisenberg. It was called “The Bloody Catharsis of Femme Revenge.” After reading and pondering it, I copied into my journal the parts that felt like a personal challenge to me.
She writes that in this godforsaken year she began to crave stories “in which women get revenge; specifically on men.” She writes that the revenge story she really wants is “about a woman who hasn’t been raped or beaten or killed, but rather has been disrespected subtly and discreetly over a period of many years.”
First I had to revisit my own dusty files of infringements, subtle and not so subtle. There are the earliest ones which feature small girls held hostage on trousered laps. (“What? Too grown up to play horsy? How about we play ‘What’s Under There?”) Pretty much universal. Every grown girl has her memory file of laps and cigar-and-denture kisses. In the nineteen-seventies I wrote a story, “Indulgences,” in which a little girl sits on her uncles’s lap and they draw pictures together.
(“He held her tightly by the waist with his left hand and drew with his right. He pressed the crayon down so hard once that it broke in two. He used red and pink and purple and brown–and, at last, black. He breathed like a man exhausted, climbing up to the top of the hill. She was aware of tensions and tremors in him that she could not explain. At last he finished climbing the hill. He put down the black crayon with its blasted tip. He was perspiring and distraught.”
Next we enter the bulkier memory-files: Sneaky Encroachments; Rubbings, Fingerings, and Gropes; Cajoling and Threats; Overt and Blatant Violations. And then the cumulative decades with what Emma Eisenberg calls “subtle and discreet disrespect over a period of many years.”
Like Eisenberg, I am most interested in this last subtle form of abuse. I, too, cheered Glen Close’s revenge in “Fatal Attraction” in 1987, and in 2011’s I reveled in Lisbeth’s revenge in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” But now, as we complete this brutal and vulgar and brutal year of 2017, I want to participate in the kinds of revenge that can nourish our battered souls.
And here’s some good news. I have found my avatar novel, just published, to light the way to all the constructive revenges I plan to perpetrate. It beautifully fills Eisenberg’s requirements. And mine.
The novel is “Mrs. Osmond, ” John Banville’s sequel to “The Portrait of a Lady,” by Henry James. We have worried and puzzled over Isabel’s decision, ever since we left her in London, to return to her manipulative, sinister husband in Italy, leaving us with no clue to her ultimate fate other than her having accepted, in a dark moment full of suffering, “that life would be her business for a long time to come.” Banville imagines for us the satisfyng steps Isabel might take to extricate herself from her deadly marriage (and treat herself to the perfect revenge) but also hints at a future large enough for her means and aspirations. The amazing thing is that her mode of revenge fits the circumstances so well that we might also envision the cruel Gilbert Osmond and his partner in deceit, Madame Merle, actually repairing their souls over time in the Purgatory Palace Isabel bequeaths them.
Mr. Closi, the snow-plowing man, has come. (“I just want you to know that I have sanded the hell out of your hill.”)