I am very honored to feature Carol Reid’s incisive review of Audrey by Beate Sigriddaughter. Welcome to Your Own Backyard!
Audrey by Beate Sigriddaughter
ELJ Publications 2015
Fiction: 316 pages
Reviewed by Carol Reid
Audrey is the work of a kaleidoscopic mind; every emotion and interaction is broken down, assembled and reassembled as its narrator chronicles four seasons of an almost unendurable love.
Set in 1980 amid a loosely knit community of writers and artists, the narrative relates in minute detail the all-consuming relationship between the young poet Andrea and Audrey, a painter and self-professed healer more than twenty years her senior.
To Andrea, nothing is trivial. Her fervent wish is to live an exalted life in which she is part goddess and part angel, with time and opportunity to produce poetry and magic. Employment and men encroach regularly on her precious time. She attracts and enchants many male lovers, and loves them because, “if there is sex, there must be love”.
She came with a painted dragon and cinnamon hearts for Valentine’s. Her name was Audrey and I am hard pressed to remember what anyone else brought to the party.
Dragons are diverse in mythology. In this novel they are presented as a sort of spirit animal connected with Audrey, but which variety– malevolent or wise, fire-breathing or powerfully protective?
Their first important conversation is generated by the painting of “Serena”, described by Andrea as having “a timid fawn-like nose and forceful amber eyes”.
“I’m so glad you like Serena,” [Audrey] said, “some people are afraid of her.”
Before Andrea can devote herself fully to Audrey, she needs to close the door on her relationship with Joel, whose gentleness, wisdom and acceptance of Andrea linger at a distance throughout the story.
This scene takes place during a rafting trip after which Andrea intends to end the affair-
The raft hurled headlong into waves, stood almost upright, despite our forward weight. Then we were flat on the water again, rocking through turbulence. We were drenched with ice-cold water. But the sun was warm and there was hardly any wind to chill us.
I leaned back and shook water from my hair, my poncho. I watched Joel. He was still concentrating. His arms pressed into the oars. His eyes were filled with love and reverence for the water, full of attention….if it were possible for me to love a man, I would have loved him. But I no longer believed I could.
Audrey is in some ways a gender-free novel. Traditionally masculine and feminine traits are exhibited by both male and female characters. Andrea’s gender struck me as not yet fully formed. She is at her core a sort of pre-adolescent, or as a psychic says of her, late in the novel, “an innocent”. This innocence allows her to believe in the possibility of pure, perfect love but of course makes her prey to being manipulated up, down and sideways by the more experienced and perhaps more irrevocably damaged Audrey. Occasional glimpses into each woman’s real, painful history are just enough to reveal how and why they came to be the way they are, separately and together.
Andrea articulates every feeling involved in an ultimately poisoned and poisonous love- torment, elation, enthrallment, hopelessness, selfishness and self-abnegation. Luminous moments are eclipsed by moments of despair. Any reader with a similar episode at the back of her emotional closet will recognize both Andrea’s and Audrey’s experience very well. This passionate love between two women, although it exists as an ideal in Andrea’s heart and mind, is not idealized nor exempt from betrayal, possessiveness and violence.
No one can spend a year in the mouth of a dragon and emerge unchanged.
About the author:
Beate Sigriddaughter grew up in Nürnberg, Germany, not far from the castle where she sometimes sat in a corner to write poems or rewrite fairy tales. She now lives and writes in Silver City, NM, Land of Enchantment. The background to all this enchantment, though, is living as a witness and participant in a world that is steeped in misogyny, ranging from subtle avuncular belittlement to legal or vigilante execution for infractions of male entitlement. The background is a world where people are addicted to conflict and competition and where peace and partnership are simply not (yet) sexy enough. In all of this, she still hopes to one day fulfill her lifelong dream of creating a language of joy that will triumph over a language heavy with addiction to conflict and sorrow, no doubt created and sustained in an effort to gain love and attention that way.
Beate has a B.A. in English and Philosophy from Georgetown University. Her published works include two novels, a novella, and many stories and poems. Three of her stories received Pushcart Prize nominations. She has also created the Glass Woman Prize to honor other women’s stories.
Carol Reid is a writer and editor in British Columbia, Canada.Guest