Monday, April 09, 2007

Review: Pink Steam

Dodie Bellamy. Pink Steam
Published by Suspect Thoughts Press
Reviewed by Paul Kane

Pink Steamcollects together twenty-two of Dodie Bellamy’s essays, many of them autobiographical in nature. What is present in all is Bellamy’s lambent intelligence: she is adept at taking the minutiae of her own life, the most banal everyday incident, or seemingly anything that attracts her attention, and finding therein a springboard for interesting, insightful formulation. And many of her flights of thought are quite breathtaking.

The best essay is perhaps “The Debbies I Have Known”. Bellamy’s Debbies are tragicomic figures, rather like Karen Black’s character in Five Easy Pieces [1970], and they live their lives according to certain Gospel Rules. One is “At all times be mysterious”, another “Never act too interested. Make them beg for it.”

“Hallucinations” is an essay forged from myriad everyday episodes. Out of one, a street encounter with an unconvincing transvestite, Bellamy gives us this:

Bad drag is always more stimulating than good drag – it forces you to look through the illusion to the tender details: smeared lipstick, one breast higher than the other, a powerful jaw, heavy-handed eye shadow, runs in nylons. (p.126)

A friend who shoplifts is the subject of “Complicity”, and this piece is organised around a list of things that Bellamy’s friend has stolen for her. There is wisdom to be found here, of an equivalent order as can be found in the thoughts of the Maggid of Mezeritch. Her final conclusion: “When I pay full price for something I feel defeated.”

Dodie Bellamy is a smart, interesting woman. Pink Steamshows that, like the late Susan Sontag, she has a mind and a sensibility able to turn any situation to fruitful advantage.

Paul Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. He welcomes responses to his reviews and can be contacted at pkane853@yahoo.co.uk

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