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The Exceptional Heroines of Barbara Quick

What do teenage girls read these days? In her day as a teen, the Dresser read such works as J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, The Diary of Anne Frank, and Carson McCullers' The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Were these books written for teenagers? The Dresser doesn't think so. They were written because the author had to write. Well, same with Barbara Quick and her new historical novel A Golden Web. Quick is an author who has to write what her heart dictates.

barbaraquick-06.jpgQuick came to the Dresser's attention with her poetic novel Vivaldi's Virgins. Like Vivaldi's Virgins, A Golden Web is set centuries ago in Italy, focuses on a girl with ambition, and involves various deceptions that the girl must enact in order to advance herself. What's the difference between the two novels? For starters, Vivaldi's Virgins is marketed to an adult audience while A Golden Web is pitched to a teen audience.GoldenWeb.gif

Before the Dresser talks about other differences between the two novels, she wants to pose the following question. Would a fan of Vivaldi's Virgins enjoy reading A Golden Web? Based on her own experience, the Dresser would say yes because there are things to learn. For example medieval university students hired and fired their own teachers. Also the reader gets treated to a close up look at the book industry at that time. How were those illuminated books made? As in Vivaldi's Virgins, Quick agilely weaves in details that she carefully researched.

The major difference between the two novels is that Quick's writing approach in A Golden Web is more direct storytelling and begins in the way a fairytale might. Vivaldi's Virgins blends letters with narrative. In other words, the protagonist writes letters mostly to her mother and we the readers see these letters along with the protagonist's narrative. In keeping with the subject matter, the language is more poetically infused in Vivaldi's Virgins which concerns the life of an artist.

If the Dresser finds fault with anything about A Golden Web, it would only be the title of the book. Personally, the Dresser thinks Quick could have devised a more alluring title. This one sounds like a video game for girls. That said, the Dresser has nothing better to offer without a long session of sitting zazen.

Nancy White in her book Sun, Moon, Salt has a lot to say about the difficulty of becoming and being a woman. This poem particularly speaks to the physicality of the life Alessandra Giliani chooses for herself in Quick's novel. Alessandra, an unusually intelligent girl, knows at the age of fourteen that she wants to be a doctor. She had to perpetrate lots of secrets to get herself the education necessary. Here's what Nancy White has to say about girls today.


She won the bloody birth and her mother
sliding past in a scream. She won milk from aching
breasts, love's merciless
gum and nip, the tyranny of the soft
brown button. She won the occasional touch
for her insatiable skin and the air
in which to puke and pee. She won
sleep's soft black socket.
She won day after day right out of the grudging sky
and first furious steps across
the room, father's hand to dangle on
from sink to stove. She won her run
right down to the mailbox hanging empty.
Hard things to chew, blades
to hold. She won her mother's no,

her father's yes, a cup to fill and pour.
She won a dress that showed her legs and shoes
for other girls to envy. She won eyes
upon her, a careful slowness when men
came to see her father's cabinet.
At school a silence against the army
of dangers, the eyes along her hem.
She won the moment where she began
to think, to close
the funnels and pipes leading to that lamp,
her body, and also clothes
like black sacks in which to store the prize.
She won a Greyhound trip alone, three hours
to tell her life so far to the interested woman
on her left and, when they stopped,

a sliver of dry and salty cheese.
She won in secret
things nobody ever named,
claimed the red beat, and that heavy spongy hill,
and the tunnel she'd once descended. She won
back her veins pounding at the pinpoint
center of the world, congratulated and
exacted herself, finger by finger. So, she won
quiet. And she won through to not
winning. To Eve sucking on a nectarine. And a pot
in which to cook strong soup, and leaves, furled and fallen,
the road going home in the half-light. She won
the whole mapless mountain and the churn of tart regret
just starting to curdle, already
gathering to yellow, to clean.

by Nancy White
from Sun, Moon, Salt

Copyright © 1992, 2010 Nancy White


Comments (1)

I am thrilled with this column. Karren Alenier brought Barbara Quick to our attention with her book VIVALDI's VIRGINS and the great energy around Barbara has made us all excited and grateful.Thank you, Karren

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 15, 2010 9:46 PM.

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