Friday, November 27, 2009

INAMORATA by Joseph Gangemi

I'm not one to read fiction very often. Especially historical fiction, but this book caught my attention because it is loosely (not so loosely) based on the story of Mina Crandon, one of the many mediums to come from the occult and spiritualism craze of the early 20th century. Since I was way younger I've had an obsession with this period in history because It was America's attempt to socialize death in a way that was seperate from mourning. While I appreciate a modern attempt to re create this most interesting time period through narrative, I did not find the book to be that good. 
Even though I'm not super into it, I decided to write about this book because recent events have caused me to think a lot about death and mourning. I recently was talking to a friend about the emotional processes of grief and how unique it is from every other emotional state. She made an excellent point stating that there's not much room for grief in our culture; traditionally the funeral and memorial services are finished in a day (depending on your religious background obviously)  and then thats the end of the collective grief. In the early twentieth century there was a movement being promoted by entertainers and literary figures (i.e Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Houdini) to speak to the dead, within the home, in a socialized setting. During this time many mediums surfaced and many were proven wrong. Mina Crandon was one of those psychics. She would claim to talk to her dead brother Walter, who would become violent occasionally. Mina was  a lot more radical than most mediums at this time. She would sometimes perform her seances in the nude and shoot ectoplasm from her vagina. 
 The female lead, on who the book was based on, was done a huge injustice with her role in the novel. She is portrayed as a weak, over-sexual manipulator. She isn't central to the narrative whatsoever; she is mostly just being sexually objectified by the male lead, who narrates the book from a first person perspective. This character is one of the investigators for  the Scientific American which comes to ultimately discredit her. I think it is a TRAVESTY what they have done to her in this book. Even the aesthetics of the cover suggests the kind of  exploitation thats happening, her face unattainable as all these male hands reaching for it, so to speak. During this time there were so many women psychics with the "ability" to speak to the dead (i.e. The fox sisters, Mina Crandon, Leon0ra Piper) that were being investigated by 'science', which at the time was incredibly male dominated. Maybe this was a reflection of what was going on between the sexes politically at this time.... or maybe not. Regardless there was an obvious separation of the sexes within this realm. Even the men that were apart of the movement were ultimately out to exploit this underground sensation. Or maybe Im projecting and rambling.  Regardless, my point is its not very clever for someone to write a FICTIONAL novel about a very interesting time in history and use it to create some sort of jack-offery for male readers is it? Its not worth reading, but Mina Crandon is worth some investigation. 


Tobi Vail said...

nadia, thanks for your thoughtful review. you bring up some good points about grief--the culture we live in really doesn't have a place for it. in fact, often times if you have any kind of emotional reaction or fail to 'get over it' people's first reaction is to suggest you see a counselor! while this is surely helpful and necessary for some, to me it is absurd to turn loss into a pathology. this also brings up what joaquin and i call 'the privatization of friendship'--where the role that friends (or family or any kind of support network) would provide in a healthy society which values people over productivity has been replaced by the market. i understand that some people and situations really do require seeing a counselor, but to set us a situation where you are not supposed to talk about death or process your emotions with anyone except for a stranger who is getting paid to listen to you is insane to me.
i think grieving someone who dies as a result of suicide can be especially tricky here. i remember a few years ago i had a few old friends that i had lost touch with die that way and when i would try and talk about it with friend, the reaction was 'you need to see a grief counselor'. what i took from that was that i needed to find some friends who i actually had a solid emotional connection with. anyhow sorry to just over-personalize here, but your post made me think about this. thanks for the review, i really appreciated the gender analysis as well. how would you tell the story differently?
take care nadia.


Tobi, thanks for validating the phenomena of lack of emotional support amongst friends and family in situations of grief or other trauma. Its something Ive been having a hard time with personally... but thats for another conversation....
Personally, I feel that a more intriguing story would focus on the dynamics between this spiritual movement and religion. I don't know much about the religious backgrounds of the people involved. Also I think that maybe I would focus more on how female driven the occult and spiritualism is, especially during this period in time. I feel that there is a definite connection between menstruation and psychic phenomenon.