The Adventures of Mao on the Long March
“Funny thing about Kitty is,” Tommy said, leaving the subject of Betty Breyer’s assets, “funny thing is, Kitty never learned to fall…people used to come from miles around just to hear her head go squish.”
Fresh fruit is as important when you live in a hotel as it is when you live on a ship; besides preventing scurvy it’s a reminder that mother earth continues to produce and care for us, or tries to against great odds.
“Yes,” Aldyce said. “Would you care to hear classical, jazz, or rock?”
“What rock do you have?”
” ‘Blowin’ in the Wind,’ ‘Downtown,’ and ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.’ My son left them here.”
“Those are classics,” Rosa said. “But play them anyway. I don’t mind a trip down memory lane.”
Rosalyn Drexler’s To Smithereens, from which these quotations come, is a narrative duet, the story of Paul and Rosa and their brittle but ongoing affair, told by each of them in turn, in relay. Paul is an art critic with a yen for large ladies, and especially large ladies who wrestle or figure in the annals of the Junoesque Femmes Club. It all goes back to his tiny mother, who seemed like a toy to him, and whom he hit when he was fourteen for frying his eggs the wrong way. “She fell down. Lay at my feet like a cloth effigy: faceless, boneless, but resembling herself.” Rosa is a belated flower-child of Forty-second Street, always getting caught in someone else’s scene, as she says, up on dope, conservation, health foods, and carrying a straw bag whose contents are a form of biography: “Clothes and things. Telephone book, cigarettes, makeup, douche powder, douche, dexies, Meth, Thorazine, vitamin pills, rose-hip gum, sugar cubes, perfume, jewelry, the I-Ching, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Delfen foam.”
Suitably, the two meet in a darkened movie-house, where Paul puts a tentative hand on Rosa’s thigh. Rosa grabs the hand and squeezes hard (“His bones rose toward the middle of my relentless palm like a log jam”), then whacks Paul across the wrist, and they are all set for a beautiful friendship. When money runs out, Paul induces Rosa to become a lady wrestler (with Bobby Fox’s “troupe of gorgeous grapplers”), and the rest of the book retails the intermittences of her affair with Paul, and the picaresque performances of the wrestling team and hangers-on on tour in Florida and Mexico.
There is no conclusion; the book fades out on a bomb scare which clears a second movie-house, and the suggestion is that this suspense, this avoided blast, is what we have now, how we live between beginnings and endings which are as violent as the creation (“A big explosion…God was the first Weatherman…from the big bang which blew everything to smithereens new planets formed”) or as accidental death (“Wanna see a picture of my wife? She’s dead. So’s my kid. That’s my story …
This article is available to subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.