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Book Review: An Unsuitable Princess, by Jane Rosenberg LaForge

an unsuitable princessAn Unsuitable Princess

By Jane Rosenberg LaForge

Jaded Ibis Press, 2014
282 pages, w/o illustrations
ISBN: 9781937543563

Spoiler alert: this book is a confession – not “a confessional” – an out and out confession – woven between a diary format, on the one hand, and a rectificational fantasy on the other.  The streams compliment and complement each other and indeed, each would be substantially incomplete without the corollary narrative.  To what the author is confessing, I will leave to the reader to ascertain, should he or she decide to enter into the labyrinth of this life, as it is publicly displayed.  A bit like Tolkien, who is thoroughly referenced in both diary and fantasy, if you make it far enough into the book, your patience will be rewarded by the reveal of the “issue” with which the author is grappling – in this case, how certain kinds of childhood deprivation leave us ill equipped to be responsive and how the responsiveness of a significant “other” can release us from our bondage of both silence and numbed affect, albeit , in her case, in hind sight and with too much delay to result in mutuality.  What her entwined narratives take us through is a certain ordained tragedy: a gift of awareness, a burden of conscience.  The book is a cri de coeur written by an ex (would be) valley girl.

From the achieved awareness comes the motivation to confess, from the apprehended tragedy comes the motivation to write through it toward an alternative resolution, one in which the author can describe the responsiveness which ungagged her and the restoration of relationship which that permitted.

I will confess – I am uncomfortable reading diaries – the inner workings of anyone’s life require a little distance to process, better in the third person, for certainly we are not in “conversation” a deux, no matter the supposed intimacy of the memoir conceit. Nevertheless, this mode allowed her to get to the crisis, through a series of escalating moments,  as she grows up and out of her formative milieu, making sense, for her reader, of the fantasy stream through which she ultimately casts her redemption and salvation.  For not only is she herself “redeemed” but, retrospectively, her formative world is saved by the grace of responsiveness, alluded to in the diary and described in the fantasy.  If all that seems complicated, in one way it is, in another the “choreography” works quite well. Indeed, the fantasy breaks up the troubling narcissism of the diary, while the diary gives the fantasy its grounding and meaning.

I have another confession – I happened to be in her “setting” about the time she was.  Briefly, I was once married to a Canadian music star and we ventured into the greener pastures of California several times in the early and mid seventies – and specifically into Laurel Canon.  I remember a parrot who, being let free to roam the house, pooped on the dining table with alarming regularity.  Because of those moments in my own life, I knew some of the music celebs who people her diary.  This may, indeed, disqualify me from a dispassionate review for the simple (but paradoxically complicated) reason that her life mirrors some elements of my own, both in the “issues” and in the therapeutic use of fantasy.  It is clear though, that the celebs, music and otherwise, in her coming-of-age memoir, formed the template for the nobility/aristocracy who appear in her fantasy, polished by the conventions of the Renaissance Faire roles and props, which obligingly form a rainbow bridge between one world and the other.  And, as in conventional fairy stories, the unrecognized is eventually re-instated to rightful place.  I did give a spoiler alert, remember.  The book is ambitious and because of that, it’s important to note the correspondence between those celebs and that nobility, and to witness the “recognition and  reinstatement” theme,  set up as problem in memoir, resolved in fantasy,  because the book’s apparent agenda of salvation and redemption is no gauntlet thrown down to challenge these wider and deeper structures of bondage. It is alarmingly apolitical even while dealing with the cultural phenomena of political struggle.

That her book was published in 2014, so many years after “that time” brings up the question of “why now” at more than a personal level.  The very Renaissance Faire she talks about morphed, as she notes,  into different creatures as the years went by, but  recently, the Faire has come back to town, in many ways.  After a few arid decades, in which Faire folk were in the shadows and submerged in our consciousness, the world of fantasy has re-emerged with a vengeance.  Perhaps literally.  On the one hand, that distance allows us, in the best case scenario, to escape to a place of therapeutic narrative, where we can work through personal, cultural and social issues – and via that distance come to  greater and perhaps more productive understanding.  In the worst case scenario, that distance permits the opposite, an escape from understanding, at all those levels.  Or, as so often happens, to land stranded some place between.  In this case, redemption was personal, extended backwards only to her enfolding familial milieu – but what about on those other levels: cultural, social – and perhaps in the widest reading, political?

What does her/our intense engagement with historical fantasy indicate about us and our time? That so many would be from “the Shire” is evident enough – where the personal and the political are intimate and cordial  interlocutors. Or, we, like her, are revealed and recognized for our noble selves.  But as she found, life beyond the Shire is more Greek Tragedy – and let us remember, the Greeks left us an unavoidable legacy of political context saturating the personal.  So my real problem with this book is not its complicated structure, there are worse, nor its uncomfortable resemblance to passages I have made (I have made my own confession), but that the critique of American culture, simmering in her diary, failed to inform her fantasy. Her confession, while cathartic (one hopes), remains trapped in Laurel Canon and the Faire.  Given her extraordinary background teaching Afro-American literature (and as an award winning poet), there is more this ex valley girl could have said that would have redeemed both confession and fantasy.  “An Unsuitable Princess”, playing on ironies concealed in cultural idiom, is still in need of absolution. On guard.

 ~ Review by Ysabeault d’Valar-Alba

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