And then there’s Joan Ehrhart, a reporter for the New York Times who is trying to track down Eve for an interview. Joan’s journalistic objectivity is questionable; she and Eve had a brief affair in high school (which Nick promptly ended in an effort to protect his running protégé). While Eve walked away mostly unscathed, Joan was left heartbroken and given the choice to seek therapy or change schools (she changed schools). Twenty years later, Joan now has a golden opportunity for redemption as she faces another profound decision.
Though Eve’s deterioration is at the center of the story, the other characters’ lives are also spiraling downward. Judith’s demand ultimately forces Nick to examine why and how he has relied on Eve to be his everything. Alissa’s attraction to Nick forces her to reconsider a relationship she had thought was everlasting. And in one of the richest scenes of the book, after a surprising discovery about her current partner, Joan begins to understand why she is unable to forgive Eve.
What is finally so magical about Biting the Apple is Bledsoe’s analysis of expectations. The characters here are burdened not only by the expectations they hold for their own lives, but also by those they place on others. In stunning prose Bledsoe captures the difficulty of letting go of these expectations — and the promising quiet that follows.
Directed by Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan by June Jordan (Copper Canyon Press)
June Jordan’s career was wide-ranging; she was an advocate, journalist, essayist, novelist, dramatist, teacher and, perhaps most importantly, poet. Directed by Desire is the complete collection of her poetry, beginning with her first book, Who Look at Me, and including the manuscript she was trying to finish before her death from breast cancer in 2002. This comprehensive edition features a foreword by poet Adrienne Rich and is thoughtfully edited by Jan Heller Levi and Sara Miles.
Jordan’s subjects are diverse, ranging from the personal to the political, and represent a lifetime of activism. Rich highlights the need for Jordan’s voice at this time in our country’s divisive history: "This book appears in a time when reflections of human solidarity, trust, compassion, and respect are in danger of disappearing from our public landscape, when what glares out from public discourse is division."
This division, Rich continues, is not necessarily limited to race and class — both major themes of Jordan’s work — but extends to cultural schisms: "modernity versus regression, fundamentalist faith versus secular reason, ‘red’ versus ‘blue.’" Jordan’s work, on the other hand, recognizes differences while aiming for "human commonality."
Winner of a Lambda Book Award, Jordan wrote about her bisexuality throughout her career, often emphasizing the politics of her sexuality. In the poem "Meta-Rhetoric," she writes about the connections between homophobia and racism:
I disagree with you
you disagree with me
The problem seems to be a matter of scale
Can you give me the statistical dimensions
of your mouth on my mouth
your breasts resting on my own?
In "A Short Note to My Very Critical and Well-Beloved Friends and Comrades," she catalogs the accusations she’s spent a lifetime defending, opening with, "First they said I was too light/Then they said I was too dark." The poem’s energy builds as the list expands — "too different" or "too much the same," "too interracial" or "too much a nationalist" — until the end, where she finally refuses all of these labels:
Make up your mind! They said. Are you militant
or sweet? Are you vegetarian or meat? Are you straight
or are you gay?
And I said, Hey! It’s not about my mind.
With over 600 pages of poetry, Directed by Desire captures Jordan, as Rich notes, "restless in movement, writing always for the voice." And it is a voice worth heeding.
Happy holidays and happy reading. Thanks for a great year.