A review of

SPRAWL

by Danielle Dutton

Central question: Can one find inspiration in suburbia?
Main characters: Unnamed female narrator, her husband, Haywood (the marriage can be characterized as occasionally erotic offset by torpor), various Mrs.’s (with whom she is friendly and to whom she writes), Lisle (a childhood friend), the “strange newcomer” (for whom the narrator feels a mild attraction); On the author: Book designer for Dalkey Archive Press, runs the publishing project Dorothy, which for its first title will publish Renee Gladman’s Event Factory; Representative sentence: “In the morning heat I look like pudding, or I sound like a mosquito squeaking under a mattress, or I fuck like a secretary with her hands full of paper.”

Danielle Dutton’s S P R A W L reads as if Gertrude Stein channeled Alice B. Toklas writing an Arcades Project set in contemporary suburbia. Dutton’s unnamed housewife roams sidewalks and manicured lawns like one of Benjamin’s flaneurs, reminiscent of the contemporary urban walkers of Renee Gladman’s stories or Gail Scott’s My Paris. But this novel is like other works, and it is not—it is both unabashedly voracious in terms of literary sources and an extraordinarily original text.

While in her first book, the remarkable collection Attempts at a Life, Dutton lifted language from other literary works as collage, in S P R A W L other texts pop up as allusion or inspiration, in the names of books or characters. Sources include Gertrude Stein novels; Lyn Hejinian in “Two Stein Talks”; an article on “Tupperware: Suburbia, sociality and mass consumption”; Laura Riding in Anarchism Is Not Enough; Roland Barthes in “The World as Object”; and A Pictorial Encyclopedia of Modern Cake Decorating. As in Attempts at a Life, Dutton pays homage to female literary characters, particularly wives, from Woolf’s Clarissa D. to Emma and Alice B.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Kate Zambreno

Kate Zambreno’s novel, O Fallen Angel, was recently published by Chiasmus Press. An essay collection, Frances Farmer Is My Sister, will be published by Semiotext(e) in fall 2011.

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