Earth mother knows best

Universal Recipients

By Eleni Zisimatos Auerbach

A review of Universal Recipients by Dana Bath

Published on October 1, 2003

Universal Recipients
Dana Bath

Arsenal Pulp Press
$19.95
paper
176pp
1-55152-142-3

Dana Bath’s is also concerned with feminist issues. The opening story, set in Japan, raises questions about male/female stereotypes, sexuality, and cultural differences. Phrases such as “Being a ghost doesn’t make one unafraid of death,” or “He glances at me, unsurprised, as if he’d called me and I’d come,” mark Bath’s attention to detail. Insightfully, she writes, “But sometimes we can’t bear for something to be finished because we’re trapped inside it.” The sense of being trapped pervades the book as characters deal with personal ghosts, sexuality, relationship pain, parental issues, violence, incest, rape, or delusion.

Bath also captures character and place well. From “Bottle Episode”: “‘Enchantay, enchantay,’ says Warren, chewing his fruit log and spraying a little spit.” In her description of Tokyo, we read that it is dangerous “Not like losing your wallet or being raped in an alleyway; more like a feral thing cooped inside one of those plastic balls from bubble-gum machines.” It’s a resonant, intricately spun image.

Most of her stories move in and out of a narrator’s interior psychic space. Figuring out one’s place in society and the meaning of connectedness are central concerns throughout the book. Observations like “sleep is a familiar place,” or “I’m so happy to be here that I’m confused” lend the various narrators and characters depth and sensitivity. “Operculum,” the concluding story, is the best example in the book of descent into a narrator’s conflicted subconscious. Repetition works well to represent the dream landscape, which is often interrupted by prevailing realities.

Bath, who works best in the non-fragmented narrative mode, has compiled an engaging set of short stories with many instances of insight. mRb

Eleni Zisimatos Auerbach is co-editor of the poetry journal Vallum. She was nominated for last year's National Magazine Awards in poetry

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