Beautiful Soon Enough

Margo Berdeshevsky

The University of Alabama Press, 2009

ISBN 13: 978-1-57366-149-2

173 pages

Reviewed by Jennifer Duncan

The characters in Beautiful Soon Enough flit through New York, Paris, San Francisco, Dubrovnik, Hawaii and Sumatra like dragonflies, surprising, iridescent and sharp, often coupling seemingly in mid-air, for ultimately this is a book about the loneliness of desire and an eroticism that exists in exile from everyday life. In short, often flash-short, stories, we are given a glimpse of a woman in a garter belt in a window, exhibiting herself to the man who gave it to her; a prostitute offering the services of her well-trained son to a failed starlet; a young woman seducing a strange boy on a bus; a homeless woman sleeping in the Sorbonne; a girl raped in a petshop, not heeding the monkey’s warning in time; and Siamese twins discovering incest. Motifs winging throughout are: vagabondage, Catholicism, Shakespeare, ménages, art, beauty, memory and aging. Churches are often settings for sensual acts and longings; people are photographers, actors, musicians, artists, poets; romances are recalled wistfully by the middle-aged, frightened by the waning of beauty. This is unabashed romanticism in which foreign lands still seem exotic, strangers mysterious and sex sensual, and so the book reads as almost unbearably nostalgic.

Most of the tales here seem to have travelled from the author’s life, itself richly textured with the spice, silk and perfume of romance. Berdeshevky was born in New York and now lives in Paris. She was trained as an actor by Lee Strasberg and performed for years in theatre, film and television before becoming a poet and photographer (and her photographs illustrate this collection). “A Friday Desdemona” features a young actress losing her virginity to an older Othello: Berdeshevsky quit university to tour as Ophelia, a figure who becomes a prominent symbol of lost love in “Bench”. Like Berdeshevsky did, the unnamed narrator of “Con un Beso de Amor” goes to Cuba to take photographs that will illustrate a female writer’s book of erotica. Berdeshevsky also worked in a tsunami survivors’ clinic in Sumatra, as presumably does the doomed white woman in “White Wings They Never Grow Weary.” Interestingly, it is in these seemingly autobiographically-based stories that the lyrical language of the collection becomes almost too strained and fragmented, as if the author is too tangled in the breathlessly fragmented linebreaks of her poetry and the staccato, interrupted stream of memory to draw the sinuous sentences and undulating narratives lines that make the other stories so compellingly dreamlike.

Consider the opening sentence of “Before the Second Taste”: “She returns to the city where she was born, like a woman with a fear of spiders.” Another line from this story: “She wants to toss her hairdo in some caged mirror.” And, from “Animalia”: “Today she has found the Sorbonne, like a sudden new wall in her own small kitchen.” Not only is the imagery here forced and convoluted, it is dishonest. But, the writing here can also be transcendent, as in “Undertow”: “Desire is white in the center, and outlined in charcoal in places, and modern, and metallic and obvious.” And, from “Imprint”, describing the goddess Pele:

And it appears and disappears, everywhere, unannounced. There are no more questions, and it’s early for replies. Sometimes the “she” only stands there, stroking. A temptress. Sometimes, she is old. Sometimes, as though she might actually touch the observer with a dark and slow hand, singed fingers – she doesn’t. With a camouflaged hand that has trailed through the vines, and matches them – sometimes, she is a promise, and a possible friend.
Beautiful Soon Enough won FC2’s American Book Review/Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize because the language is startlingly sensuous, imagistic, and intense. Other reviewers have compared the voice to Ducornet and Walser. Certainly, there are notes of Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Colette and l’ecriture feminine, but the strongest antecedent seems to be Anais Nin’s Collages, an early collection of her short stories. Like in Nin’s fiction (as distinguished from her journals and erotica), Berdeshevsky’s characters seem archetypal, embodiments of desire, intellect and sensation that remain images of humanity rather than fully-fleshed humans. Perhaps this is why the eroticism here seems Bataille-esque in its coldness and sense of distance, its origins of illusion, allusion and emptiness, despite its wistful sensuality that yearns for an impossibly untameable intimacy. The fervent sexuality that drives most of the stories is occasionally brought into relief by the horrors of homelessness, the Holocaust, the tsunami, war, yet overshadows all these other tragedies. Beautiful Soon Enough has been praised for its beautiful surgery in exposing the female heart, but I am suspicious of archetypes, especially those that define women by desire, sensuality and romanticism. Berdeshevsky’s visions are evocative, musical, and enchanting, the sirens whose cries ring in the ears, and who may, or may not, sing inside the bars of our ribs.

Margo Berdeshevsky’s newest book of poems, Between Soul and Stone, was published by Sheep Meadow Press in September 2011.