Blankness, Melancholy, and Other Ways of Dying–Brenna Lemieux

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The characters in this terrific new book by Brenna Lemieux are hybrids worthy of Edward Hopper, Salvador Dali, and Charles Simic. They inhabit their houses, their clothing, their bodies, their lives like Russian dolls, packed inside interiors freighted with pitchforks and ribs. They zip “bones into a person who drinks coffee by the bucket.” Half object, half injury, the living “go crazy and propose.” Lemieux’s  is a purgatorial world of couples—mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, lovers, husbands wives—enmeshed with and in pursuit of each other through surreal suburban landscapes. Lemieux’s paradise is urban: “a city apartment with eccentric neighbors and no roaches,” where true lovers “listen to jazz at night and if they have/ a telephone at all they’ll keep their numbers unlisted.” In “Courting,” a woman exfoliates herself to the very bone while her partner asks “did you get a haircut or something.” Beneath the poems’ extravagant exteriors, heartbreaking sacrifice is reset like a broken bone by platitude: “What a blessing,” says a nurse relieved of her duties.  A dying mother says to the daughter who sacrifices herself:  “You’re my savior.” What saves these poems from bleakness is their startling wit, electric language, and the satisfactions of precisely observed truth.

~ Katherine Smith, author of Argument by Design

A man whose garments lose their openings—buttonholes, armholes, socks and boxers fused shut; a son who, coping with his alcoholic father’s death and his mother’s depression, maps his house, his life, his world obsessively as a stay from oblivion; a woman whose desire to be noticed by her lover exfoliates her skin down to the bones: the characters in Lemieux’s Blankness, Melancholy, and Other Ways of Dying move in a surrealistic world in which the only reality is absence. Breton says, “the whims of imagination alone [cause] real things.” Only a poet in the height of her imaginative powers can fashion these darkly whimsical worlds that speak volumes about our human condition. Each poem opens a door to an alternate reality which enlarges and enriches the reader’s known world, rendering it rife with possibility. Lemieux’s superb narrative, lyrical, and imaginative gifts give voice to our deepest griefs and our need to be loved—but always with deftness, wit, and great empathy. As one of her characters reflects, “the best thing a person/could ever give you is an absence for you to fill.” A stunning collection from a singular, unforgettable voice.

~ Angela Narciso Torres, author of Blood Orange

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