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Roots & Branches Series
Eileen learns to hold to little else than her body, her diary and her daughter's withering tolerance for a new life made in the streets of 1970’s Detroit. At the sundown of the post-Vietnam war era, an unrelentingly pithy prose style here mediates a dark and wanton voice crying in the wilderness.
Flirting with Bataille and invoking Kristeva, Barbara Henning plunges her beleaguered protagonist Eileen into the pitch of an existential crisis. "I want to suffer and laugh," says the liquored-up mother of a teen girl, distraught wife of a humdrum man, and lover of many a stray, bruiser type. This is Detroit circa 1970, and late one night
Eileen skips out, forsaking any desire she might once have had for a regular family life. Chapters alternate between first and third person, between Eileen's "desire" journals and a poetically inclined narrator's pithy observations of her downward spiral from unhappy homemaker to barfly nymphet. Melancholy dominates. Abandonment prevails. Black Lace is a taut slip of a book for the brooding, alienated, soul-sick type for whom summer and sun bring little fun.
This notion of pain as a crutch, a sensory nudge, is dark and well-rendered in the novel. Henning sketches her character so clearly that the notion makes sense, seems utterly reasonable in the context of Eileen's life. The book fails to offer reassurance—life does not get better—and this separates it from other books about women trapped in the institution of marriage. Sadly, perhaps inevitably, Eileen's trap simply changes form. What separates the two traps is the notion of choice, both sexual and professional.
Refreshingly, Henning resists happy endings, and instead focuses on the richer material of Eileen's engagement with her conflicting selves, leaving the outcomes of her trials with identity beyond the last page.
Barbara Henning was born in Detroit, Michigan. She has lived in New York City since 1984 and is the author of three collections of poetry, Smoking in the Twilight Bar (United Artists, 1988) Love Makes Thinking Dark (United Artists, 1995), Detective Sentences (Spuyten Duyvil, 2001), a novel Black Lace (Spuyten Duyvil, 2001), a novel You, Me, and the Insects (Spuyten Duyvil, 2005); three artist book collaborations, Words and Pictures (with Sally Young), The Passion of Signs (with Georgia Marsh, Leave Books), and How to Read and Write in the Dark (with Miranda Maher); and two pamphlets, Me and My Dog from Poetry New York, In Between from Spectacular Diseases (England); and a series of photopoem booklets, Found in the Park, Up North, Aerial View, Teacher Training, Thakita Thaka, and My Autobiography. A teacher for many years at Long Island University, she now lives in Brooklyn, NY.