Widener University had the pleasure of hosting local poet Sadie Dupuis as our visiting writer earlier this semester. Not only is Dupuis a passionate poet, she is also the self-described “frontdemon” for the popular indie rock band Speedy Ortiz, serving as the band’s lyricist, guitarist, and lead vocalist. She also released a solo musical project in 2016 named SAD13. In her most recent collection of poetry, Mouthguard, Dupuis expresses a consuming desire to understand the world around her and the place she occupies within it. Referred to in an interview with Rolling Stone as “a sly cycle of loss and renewal” and in Marie Claire as “nostalgic and familiar,” Mouthguard seems to be the meeting point of humor and self-exploration. Dupuis uses imagery that stretches the boundaries of language. Her poem “Move in with Me” opens with the lines: “And my underwater sculptures / made out of brain / the cold of the blue ocean.” The startling truths featured in her poems comprise just a fraction of the wealth of perspective available to Dupuis. In the titular poem “Mouthguard,” Dupuis writes: “I am very qualified / to discuss myself / in my wrongness / if personal mythology / is interesting to anyone.” In that, Dupuis harnesses the root of why all writers should write: because perspective is subjective and unique, and there is always someone who benefits from hearing it. Her poem “This Message Is for Sadie,” opens on the line: “Who is looking slash feeling / And never remotely understands / Messages she leaves herself.” To me, this perfectly summarizes the hopefulness that pairs with self-doubt, and reflects the courage Dupuis puts into her poems and subsequently, into her readers.
The Blue Route staffers are looking forward to the AWP conference in San Antonio later this week. In addition to the exciting array of panels, the festival-like bookfair, and the Forum for Undergraduate Student Editors caucus, there will be the keynote address by the fabulous Helena María Viramontes. Below, our own Sarah De Kok reviews Their Dogs Came with Them, Viramontes’ ambitious 2007 novel.
In modern television shows, there are often multiple plots going on at once. The main characters will go through a series of events while side characters go on their own adventures. By the end of the show, viewers see both stories come together for the final resolution. In Helena Maria Viramontes’ character-driven novel Their Dogs Came With Them, a similar shift in point of view occurs. Told through a third-person point of view, each chapter follows a different character and the people around them. Viramontes focuses on the stories of four young women: Tranquilina, Turtle, Ermilia, and Ana. These women all cross paths in one way or another and are identified through similar character descriptions throughout the novel. The threat of their neighborhood being torn down to make way for a highway overpass is ever-present throughout the story, as is the curfew for citizens so authorities can helicopters can eliminate stray dogs to prevent the spread of rabies.
The story of one’s family is influential to one’s own story. In that same sense, the story of other characters has a hand in the story of the four main characters of Viramontes’ novel. Readers first meet a young Ermilia going to live with her grandparents. As Ermilia’s story progresses, she bands together with a group of girls each with their own stories to bring to the narrative. Ermilia grew up on the same street as Turtle, a gang member who later becomes homeless. Turtle struggles to survive on the streets while living in constant fear of being jumped by rival gang members. Turtle’s refusal to conform to gender norms by presenting herself as male keeps her safe while living on the streets of East Los Angeles. She is on edge from being homeless and staying away from rival gangs. Tranquilina’s life is devoted to serving others in her father’s church. Her story includes the story of her parents and how they traveled to southern California.
Ana’s story is primarily influenced by her brother, Ben. His mental illness takes up most of his time and energy, allowing little time to prioritize anything else. Ana must step in and care for her brother, becoming the mother figure that was lost to them as children. Readers may find themselves disappointed with the lack of Ana’s perspective on her experience. The way the book is advertised gives the impression this is a novel about four young women and their experiences as women living in southern California in the 1960s. To an extent, this is true. Viramontes includes universal experiences of women through each character; Turtle is assaulted as a young girl which leads her to shave her head and pass as male.
Viramontes uses point of view in a way that is unique to her story but leaves readers disconnected from making emotional connections to the characters. With the understanding that this is a character-driven piece, underneath all the layers of setting description and inner thoughts is a story about survival in a world of “us against them.” Despite these minor drawbacks, Viramontes’ novel creates a unique world with relatable characters for readers who are looking for a film-like experience.
Issue 23 (December 2019) features undergraduate writers from Central Michigan University, Lebanon Valley College, Marshall University, Temple University, University of West Attica, and University of Maine Farmington. Plus interviews with keynote speaker Nimisha Ladva and student attendees at this year’s FUSE Conference, which Widener University had the immense pleasure of hosting. To learn more about the conference, take a look inside! Thank you to the writers for sending in your amazing pieces, the artists for complementing the stories they tell, and the staff for helping put it all together. We hope you enjoy this collection and its glimpse into the trials and triumphs of life!
Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves is unlike any other novel ever published. A layered effort compiled from the in-universe narrators and their manuscripts, the book acts as an interactive, psychological horror/thriller, the only in its wholly unique genre.
House of Leaves, primarily, is about an academic review of a critically acclaimed documentary, The Navidson Record; however, the author of this work is a recently deceased, blind, elderly man who died in mysterious circumstances. Furthermore, the documentary exists neither in the real world nor in the novel’s. The conceit of The Navidson Record surrounds Will Navidson, a photojournalist, discovering that his new home has internal measurements greater than its external measurements. Later, a room appears in house’s kitchen, which should lead into the backyard, yet it reveals a dark hallway. The fictional documentary follows Navidson’s explorations into the void, and his descent down its spiral staircase, and into madness.
Zampano, the deceased author of the academic review of the film, provides copious footnotes, some of which contain footnotes of their own, exploring articles, real and fictional, discussing film theory, philosophy, imagery, and the cultural impact of The Navidson Record. Johnny Truant, who discovered Zampano’s work, writes his own footnotes, commenting on Zampano’s story while telling his own, albeit as an unreliable narrator.
Furthermore, an appendix to the book titled “The Whalestone Letters” contains seemingly unrelated poems, sections of prose, artistic renderings of the home in The Navidson Record, and most importantly, letters from Johnny’s mother, written inside an insane asylum. These letters contain secret codes and messages, which can be discovered by avid readers.
House of Leaves is most notable for its unique page layout and style. For instance, different characters’ writings are printed in different fonts, certain words, such as “House” and “Minotaur” are colored blue and red, and sections of prose are often arranged to mirror the events of The Navidson Record, giving the book an eerie, poetic quality. The book itself is a maze, complicated and strange to read, delving into metafiction, and entirely unlike any other book on the market.
An immense novel, House of Leaves requires a long time to digest, and must be read as a printed copy. Wholly unique, the work stands as one of the most unnerving books I have ever read, perfect for this Halloween season.
by Evan Davis