Music for another life
by Kristina Marie Darling and Max Avi Kaplan
BlazeVOX Books, 2014; 84 pp
Reviewed by Karissa Morton
Music for another life, a series of linked poems and photographs by Kristina Marie Darling and Max Avi Kaplan, is drawn together by protagonist Adelle, an impressively multi-dimensional 1950s housewife who struggles to find her place in a world of diamonds, desire, and domestic misery. The first two interactions the reader has with Adelle come via Kaplan’s photographs, giving her the unique experience of putting a face to Darling’s speaker before she even learns anything about her. The first image of Adelle appears on the cover: a buxom, pouty blonde in a Chanel-esque suit, evoking a beautiful Jackie-Marilyn chimera, followed by a view of her, all curls and dainty gloves, looking mysteriously uneasy. It’s safe to use these photos to presume time and place, age and appearance, leaving the poems to do the immediate emotional and narrative work of the text.
That text shows the reader Adelle’s world—one of inescapable performativity. She’s known since she was a girl that “the / fate of wives is struggle,” but still finds herself pressing a husband’s work pants and “cooking meals that don’t get eaten.” Despite all the quiet violences of loneliness, adultery, and loss of identity, Adelle still sees herself as “the leading lady, a magnificent heroine strapped to the train tracks.” Whether she has moments wherein she truly enjoys acts that to her sensibilities are a bit masochistic, or merely embraces the tragic (and critically integral) “Ophelia” role as an act of escapism is deliciously unclear. Kaplan’s visual depictions of Adelle contribute to this sense, as her frequently-stoic face is complicated by penetratingly dark eyes that gaze knowingly at the reader as if silently warning, “You know what I’m capable of.”
An interestingly-repeated motif is that of the burns on Adelle’s wrists, received during haphazard ironing and frying incidents. Ironically, Adelle soothes her wounds with Crisco—a common folk remedy that actually makes a burn worse by sealing in the heat. In attempting to assuage her pain, she instead concentrates it, a result similar to what happens when she ultimately escapes her marriage and invites friends to a party to celebrate her freedom and “unattachedness,” only to have no one show up. Instead of becoming free, Adelle becomes a spectacle—the only woman willing to leave a party alone, the woman burning all of her good linens before a ravenous audience complete with “white teeth, perfect hemlines, and each ribbon pinned in place.” This public performance necessarily makes a reader think of Plath’s Lady Lazarus rising from the ash, and in Music for another life, Darling and Kaplan have deftly created a believably Plathian character, one hungry for autonomy and self-expression, hungry to become anything but the “fairy tale princesses [who all] blur together.”