A magic trapeze: Baby Geisha by Trinie Dalton
Two Dollar Radio
Trinie Dalton’s Baby Geisha has a lovely letter from Thurston Moore inside its cover:
I find myself reaching for a magic trapeze as I drink in your sentences. Feeling the sweet desire to swing to new freedom, liberation and surprise.
Bring it on, Thurston
P.S.––I love this: “part-queer”!
What is so magical about this book? Actually, a lot. These stories traverse the cultural spectrum in a way that many books don’t quite get to do, maybe partly out of luck, maybe partly because Trinie’s work is edgy and full of a vibrancy that kids politely, that pokes fun at the underbelly of stereotypes, that tries to hit on certain affects and types without being altogether mean about it.
As Eileen Myles writes on the back cover, “things just kind of dead-end in a macho way that feels like porn that didn’t happen––the dirty scenes I mean. Trinie’s writing absolutely unfeminine work.” This may be true. Let’s take a closer look at some of the characters who people this lovely set of stories.
First we have Iggy, the typical Buddhist vegan-friendly yogi who sets out on a journey as a lost one (one of Trinie’s archetypes––orphan territory). Dalton writes that “Iggy’s thirty-fifth year had been all about Being Here Now, thanks to the book he’d read profiling the counterculture man who turned from acidhead to yogi in a blink.” Iggy explores the Midwest, oddly enough, and ends up being bitten by a snapping turtle, and so the story ends: “The horror of enlightenment was too painful, and all Iggy immediately craved was a beach towel and a band-aid.”
In “Millennium Chill,” we have Elise, who collects sweaters and feels compelled to share her sweaters with an old homeless woman with whom she seems to be connected. We have Joanne in the next story, who takes time out of her busy life to go to Costa Rica in search of sloths, to “study” them. And then there’s “Baby Geisha,” about a girl who identifies with her sexual practices but who doesn’t really feel connected to anyone (this is a common theme with Trinie’s characters). And of course there are the wonderful “Jackpot” stories––Golden Corral, a tree, a cutting down of a tree, a couple clearing away a tree stump and dancing on the debris, which ends with a telling line: “Flo vowed never to wash that muddy horse again.” “Shrub of Emotion” takes on an emo quality, and the folks who live with this shrub are surprisingly Alpine, drinking the Milk of the Wise Man from atop a Swiss chalet, living high and precise.
Trinie’s book ends with a collection of “Sad Drag Monologues,” which are worth their weight in gold. Baby Geisha concludes, emphatically, after having traversed the lonely monologue turf, with a sentence that gives us a clue as to what Dalton is up to: “If it doesn’t hurt, I’m lost.” Who are these characters, and why do they fail so miserably? We could ask ourselves that, and if we need to ask, maybe we haven’t been paying attention to the arc of the book, which is, indeed, somewhat masculine, as Myles writes in her blurb. It pokes fun, it’s satirical, there’s an underlying delicious irony to it, and the telling parts are the ones where Dalton coins names, cuts down trees with her paragraphs, gives us just a touch of the absurd to make the stories palatable (to make the medicine go down).
I wouldn’t say these are entirely Flarfy, but again, Flarf is for grown-ups, and these stories emulate a little bit of that “high edge” to make an easy task more complicated, to make the ways stereotypes that we can’t help but falling into seem palatable. There is depth to these characters, and there is symbolism here that can’t be ignored. We wonder how Dalton has chosen her names, what she is up to in writing so much about trees, the girth of history found there, and we wonder what’s behind the scenes at the crime-zone of these cultural mélanges. In a way, it’s all set up for us––yes, there’s a dude who read Ram Das; yes, there’s a baby with a penchant for casual affairs. However, when it comes down to it, we get to thinking: If these stories provide mirrors, then what is next? Dalton’s skill as a writer, and above all her expertise in choosing words that play into a darker cultural picture––an offsetting of America’s natural high!––are not to be missed here, and there’s food for thought in these pages. But also: simply food. Either way, the intricacies and laughter-filled pages of these stories will prove rewarding on any ordinary day, whether in sun or shadows.
Trinie Dalton’s Baby Geisha is available for purchase through Two Dollar Radio.