Good Reading : March 2010
biography / memoir word of mouth Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and her family’s feuds Lyndall Gordon In Lives Like Loaded Guns Gordon has produced a scholarly text based on painstaking archival research. It primarily focuses on the feud between the family of the poet, Emily Dickinson, and Mabel Loomis Todd, although Gordon does explore other aspects of Emily's life such as her 'mysterious' illness, for example. Todd, who was to produce the first published volumes of Emily Dickinson's poetry, was the long-time mistress of Emily's mar ried brother, Austin. Todd car ried vitriol towards Austin's wife, Sue, which was returned in equal measure and divided the family. This schism has reverberated for the last century, often driven by misinfor mation, malice and deceit. At its heart it has come to be about 'ownership' of Emily and moral annihilation of the opposition. The 'Todd camp' has, according to Gordon, transmitted a 'virus of hate' perpetuated unknowingly by biographers and teachers who accept Todd's version of the Dickinson family history. Gordon's portrait of Emily is of a feisty, spirited but not always empathetic being. She is alive, ardent and human, a far cry from Todd's portrait of a fading recluse. Gordon examines the soaring genius of Dickinson's poetry with clarity and insight, often relating it to the events in the maelstrom of love, death, jealousy and revenge that surrounded her. ★★★★ Virago $35.00 Reviewed by Linda George The Possibility of Everything Hope Edelman Ibelieve in the possibility of everything,' Hope Edelman tells her husband, but her assertion will be tested when he suggests that a shaman might cure the recent violent, er ratic behaviour of their three-year-old daughter, Maya. Hope is an over-anxious Califor nian mum conscientiously clued up on the best advice available, but is it only in the jungles of Belize, where the family spends Christmas, that Maya is cured. With herbs, prayers and the laying on of hands, her croup disappears and her invisible friend Dodo ceases to be her excuse for her obnoxious behaviour. Was she suffering a childhood phase, a spiritual haunting or the onset of mental illness? And will this brief holiday, an overdue respite from the tensions of moder n living, revitalise Hope's mar riage? Many readers will already admire Edelman for her bestselling books on mothers and daughters. She is an exciting author, skipping effortlessly from the present to the past, from holiday experiences to Mayan history, analysing her feelings and always making the personal seem universal. Her take on modern motherhood versus careers will have young women nodding in recognition. Personally, I favour more commonsense approaches to child rearing. But Edelman does an excellent job of presenting both rational and super natural arguments, so her memoir invites challenging discussions. ★★★★ RG HarperCollins $32.99 Reviewed by Barbara Baker Single tickets on sale Monday 15 February Concert information and bookings at www.mso.com.au. Book at theartscentre.com.au on 1300 182 183 and Ticketmaster outlets on 1300 136 166.