As I return now to my own work, my own writing, I’m reminded of why I bother. Why try to put words to the page, link sentences arm in arm, when there is so much more (arguably important pressing things) to be done? What is the pull? Reading is the key, and it always has been for me. It’s the life force, the reason, the treasure in hand. A book – the entity itself – is a work of art, a compilation of months, of years, of thoughts and desires and obsessions, of lonely hours, powerful connections, a bringing together of this and you and me. A reader, someone who will seek out your work when they could be doing many other things, is an extraordinary gift.
I appreciate that now. More than ever. And one of my objectives this year and in years to come is to reconnect with text, with words, with the books I have loved. To find new favorites. To really sit with them and give them their due. Because if I’m being honest, there are few things I’d rather be doing. Personally speaking, I’ve been through the wringer, have met with the bottom and have since swirled and kicked back up. Feeling the need to lay exquisite words back under my feet, words familiar and new that will be around for ages, to keep me standing, to strengthen my ground. There was a time not too long ago when I swore I’d never write another word. When I couldn’t bear open a book. And now I find it hard to let a day go by without doing these things.
In light of these realizations, my bedroom table is again stacked high with books, many of them collections of poetry and short stories, a lovely and reasonable way, really, of diving quickly back into the lit game.
Enter DOLL PALACE, the debut collection of stories by Sara Lippmann.
DOLL PALACE was published in September 2014 by Dock Street Press, and it is a tremendous and moving read. I have adored Sara’s work for years and seeing so many of her beautiful, penetrating, haunting stories collected here is pure gold. The cover is equally outstanding; the crumpled doll in the chain is perfection. A personalized note from Dock Street Press accompanied the collection and I wish all books could arrive this way.
Simply put, DOLL PALACE is one of the best story collections I’ve ever read. Sara Lippmann is an insightful, sharp, and fearless writer who effortlessly weaves past with present to flesh out full lives in short spaces. These characters are memorable, surprising, and fully human. The stories are often dark and unsettling, with revelations at every turn. There are passages here, so many, to read over and over, arresting in their richness and depth and the ways in which they resonate outside of their pages. With that, there is also much to be said for the pacing – an urgency to keep moving ahead, to turn page after page. Repercussions of childhood, of adulthood, of the growing done in between. Repercussions of expectation. Of that perfect, flawless doll-like exterior, a dream world carousel. Repercussions of intimacy in its many forms, seeking it or running from it. There is conflict and love and desperation. Characters with stories worth telling, told by a trusted source. The collection as a whole is beautifully arranged, thematically cohesive, and worthy of every praise. Lippmann leaves it all on the page without giving everything away. It is masterful work.
Sara’s book has received many outstanding, detailed reviews, and I want to link to two of my favorites. The first is from Kathy Fish, published at The Lit Pub, and the second is from Christopher Allen, published by Necessary Fiction. Love these wise words.
Leaving you all now with a few DOLL PALACE lines, exquisite words in every way. Enjoy.
“The hiss of his coffee press, the delicate plinking of cups on saucers, the pop and slide of the display case, a gasping for air. Her husband was going on about family and tests and prevention and the passing of time, life’s great eraser, to make way for a future that included healthy children, unafflicted children, a future that would render Jack an unfortunate memory in an otherwise perfectly wonderful life, one worth envying, I assure you. It’d be a couple years, tops, her husband was certain.” – from “Jew”
“The girls are breathless, feverish in wants, circling and dog-earing as they squeal, they love and they love and they love, there is so much, pages snapping like whips.” – from “Doll Palace”
“Twenty-four years and five months. Phil still folded Chuck’s puppet legs into the cab of his truck and took him to a game once a season. The field had been renamed in Chuck’s honor. Students stared as Phil wheeled the grunting, spasmodic husk of his buddy through the sinking sod over to the bleachers and soaked an entire flannel with sweat. He rested a hand on Chuck’s shoulder, dressed in his shiny varsity jacket, fed him peanuts, and suffered through the whispers, then drove him home…” – from “The Last Resort”
“We split a soda (her treat) and a bag of peanuts and she swings my arm like a jump rope. There was a time when I followed her everywhere, when I wanted to be in her family, to be inside her skin, when I thought I’d die if she ever got mad at me.” – from “Everyone Has Your Best Interests at Heart”
“She sawed at the unbleached hairs on her arms, hating their hardhats and dimpled chins and callused thumbs and drills and scaffolding and bricks and mortar and man smells and shoes. She was just getting started. She hated and hated and hated herself to sleep.” – from “Starter Home”
“We refill our glasses and drink, we are boisterous and slurry, stuffed and drunk, compelled as we are to finish everything, to get what we paid for, but it is late, we look at our watches, past one in the morning (we calculate sitter fees) and the longer we sit we turn sluggish, our clothes meld to our skin, our hearts, are no longer in it. Lettie’s eyes well up but they are happy tears, she assures us, I am so lucky to have you and you so lucky to have found each other.” – from “The Second Act”
“The view delivers: snow. Falling in perverse flakes against a dull sky, dust to white on pawnshop awnings where it catches, compiling, as each speck drops in the whole, uniqueness another fallacy, another bogus line. Neon signs flicker like insect traps. Doors remain shut. Two blocks down, the ocean crashes against the shoreline. Not that I can see. It’s practically a blizzard, a paperweight stirred – but inside there’s hardly a sound.” – from “Wolf Cry”
“The whole world is cry. Water flood her cup, spill her wrist, soften the elbow, I drain in tears, but when she close the tap to breathe I pray maybe she have place deep inside the deep rise and fall of her lungs for me.” – from “Houseboy”
“Her voice breaks, You don’t understand, but before she can whisper, already, there is her husband, kissing her forehead and saying, What did I miss?” – from “Girl”