Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Sue Kaufman: Falling Bodies

Knowing that she died by jumping out a window in New York City in 1977, it's pretty eerie reading through Sue Kaufman's entire body of published work. Take this snippet from Diary of a Mad Housewife (1967), in the voice of Bettina (Tina) Balser, the protagonist:

. . . a couple of times I even thought of suicide. Yesterday morning I stood at the bedroom window, trying to get the nerve to open the window and jump, but Tina the Comedienne won out: I had this vision of myself soaring, like Mary Poppins, out over Central Park West, tweed skirt and Lady Lingerie from Best's belling out, and stayed inside. I also knew that, suicide failing, I had to talk to someone or really go stark foaming frothing mad. (p. 288)

And here's a snippet from Falling Bodies (1974), looking over protagonist Emma Sohier's shoulder:

A little over a year ago, in late November . . . some poor young woman had pitched herself and her two miniature poodles off the penthouse terrace of the building diagonally across the street . . . her mind finally made up, the girl had first tossed one furry bundle, then the other, high into the air like some queenly vaudeville juggler -- and as they came down past her (yowling?), had stood up on the low wall, spread her arms wide, and in a perfect Esther Williams swan dive, had taken off into space herself. (pp. 63-64)*

What's especially notable about these novels -- and much of Kaufman's work -- is the strange balancing of madness and comedy in her wry descriptions.  Her primary characters are often too clever for their own good, too acutely attuned to the echo chamber of their own observations: and so they come undone, unhinged. 

Today's Rune: Movement.  *Esther Williams is still alive, by the way, at 88. Here's a link to a Life photo showing her diving -- into a pool:


the walking man said...

What amazes me is that we look at a written work, published for profit, as entertainment. When in truth in a case like this and Plath and Brautigan and so many others it is a suicide note written while they grow desperate enough to finally do it.

Charles Gramlich said...

It's always fasinating to read such things. I remember reading a lot of Robert E. Howard's correspondence and thinking about it knowing he later killed himself.

jodi said...

Erik, madness and comedy are a VERY fine line. I love Ethel Merman. She is an original mermaid!

Erik Donald France said...

Thanks all for the comments -- excellent points, indeed.

Distributorcap said...

have you ever seen the movie "diary of a mad housewife"

an interesting one......

i didnt know that about kaufman