Make your mark.
Now 60, Merkin has done this with aplomb and an underlying political sensibility that is extremely rational and, thus, feminist. More often, however, Merkin addresses more complicated issues, or at least ones calling for either honest self-examination or subtlety. While she could say the same about any part of her aging body and often does , this discomfort does not prevent her from making smart, sharp observations about herself or from examining the reaction of the world around her to her changing but clearly female physique.
As Merkin explained in the title essay, it was the combination of her insecurities and her learned resilience in the face of these anxieties that helped make her a writer. Both forces are on display here, with all the perspicacity the author has become known for.
Daphne Merkin is frighteningly intelligent. But Daphne Merkin is not only deeply smart, she is deeply troubled.
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She was, she tells us, born into a family of casually Orthodox Jews. Her father was successful and distant. But she could write. Lord, could she write. When she was 21, she reviewed a book by Jane Bowles. Many years later, over lunch, she told him she felt more depressed than usual. With that, as she writes in this collection of pieces, the interrogation began:.
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How depressed? Quite depressed, I said. Did I have trouble getting up in the morning? Lots, I answered. Did I ever stay in bed all day? No, I said, but it was often noon before I got out of my nightgown. But of course I continued to write, he said. He looked quite serious and then gently asked me if I had ever thought about trying shock therapy. Shock therapy?
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Yes, he said, he knew a friend — a famous friend — for whom it had been quite helpful. Maybe I should try it. Sure, I said. More than slightly. I understood that he was trying to be helpful in his way, but it fell so far short. We shook hands on Madison Avenue and then gave each other a polite peck, as we always did.
It was sunny and cool as I made my way home, looking in at the windows full of bright summer dresses. Still, how on earth did he conceive of me? As a chronic mental patient, someone who was meant to sit on a thin hospital mattress and stare grayly into space? It suddenly occurred to me, as I walked up Madison Avenue, that it might pay to be resilient, if this was all being vulnerable and skinless got you.
Indeed, maybe it was time to rethink this whole salvation business.
Or maybe I was less desperate, less teetering on the edge, than I cared to admit. Now, that was a refreshing possibility. There are 45 of them, and the topics are, as they say, wide-ranging. For the Kindle edition, click here. There are meditations on stars, most of them damaged icons ripe for her healing analysis — Marilyn, Michael, Truman, Courtney.
There are book reviews, many of them learned, some of them esoteric. No problem. I know her just well enough to believe she found only modest catharsis in writing these pieces. And in her endless distress, she often finds it.
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