Complicated Grief by Laura Mullen
November 5, 2015
120 pages / Cover art by Joan Tanner
In a way (the way I’m taking it) Laura Mullen’s Complicated Grief follows (with giant dropouts) everything she knows about being a monster. Her aegis covers women (young ones and aging), unnatural disasters and literature. If something packed could wander like Julianne Moore’s mind, to the benefit of everyone, but more like a whole department store or a library feeling snarky, shuffled itself and somehow it was wise.
From the Internet, I learn that "complicated grief" designates a bereavement disorder in which, instead of fading with time, the pain of loss remains as acute as it was in the beginning. But from Laura Mullen’s book I learn that complicated grief also names something else: not a sufferer’s excruciating condition, but a writer’s exhilarating achievement. Here, the incapacity to move on from "old" psychic scenarios has been itself complicated by a formidable prose that not only refuses to get over them but even works to revive them in all their undying (Mullen would say: undead) vigor. To these unstintingly reimagined ancient histories—ranging from fairy tale and yesteryear’s news item to childhood trauma and grownup broken heart—Mullen gives all the hyperrealist precision of a dream: every turn and phrase starts at you. And not the least of this book’s disconcerting, but strangely salutary, powers is that, under its stimulus, you can’t help starting back.
One of the deep pleasures of this book is to be in the presence of a mind fully alive to the contradictions of what it is to be a sentient being, thinking and feeling while simultaneously thinking of feeling. I found myself marveling word-by-word, page after page. One thought: How often are we offered the opportunity to watch a mind form the mental construct we call "a thought," and why is it so rare? The world is here, seeping brilliantly through the seams, made utterly new.