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Bill Creston

A Reviewer's Lack of Reading Comprehension
What Kind of Male Chauvinism is That!?!:
Lehman Weichselbaum's Faulty Review
of Barbara Rosenthal's Novel WISH FOR AMNESIA

I am in total agreement with your reviewer Lehman Weichselbaum’s Issue 5 assessment of Barbara Rosenthal’s novel WISH FOR AMNESIA (Deadly Chaps Press, 2017, ISBN 978-1-937739-92-8) as “…extraordinary…compelling… a loom...of finespun hard-steel cable.... Clinical precision and vertiginous pace...richly tapestried…root-and-branch reinventive…finds few literary precedents … (maybe Joyce),” although I regret that he didn’t quote a single one of the magnificent lines he called “the most astounding passages of English prose you’ll ever read.” But I am in total disagreement with his shockingly exemplified faulty reading-comprehension regarding his two “bones to pick,” 1—the motivations of the pivotal-character Jack, which he says aren’t “really spell[ed] out” and 2—, most egregious, regarding the bounteous scenes of Jack’s wife, Caroline, whom he so erroneously described as the “weakest” characterization. These are both false assertions revealing that reviewer’s lack of feeling and attention. But the latter, even for me as a male myself, I can only ascribe to horrific male chauvinism. These problems of inattention to character detail severely mar Weichselbaum’s otherwise worthy assessment of the plot, structure, and linguistics of the novel, and thereby cast an enormous, ugly blight on Rosenthal’s magnificent tour de force.

Weichselbaum is known as a Brevitas Poet, an especially short-form writer. I think he would do well to review works within his own genre of expertise. Only his own oversight and poor skills in reading a long-form work could explain his only two complaints about this complex, psychological, philosophical, literary novel.

First, Jack’s motivations. Jack Rubin is the son of Holocaust resistance workers who rises to fame and influence. Jack’s motivations, or as Weichselbaum called it, “what exalted him” are stated in the novel in two ways — motivations from those who empowered him, and motivations from himself: Motivations from others who empowered him as “a speaker for his peers,” “a leader of the Peace Movement” and in his United Nations post include: his incessantly smiling, unparalleled charisma and leadership qualities (pgs 10, 12, 29, 126, 160); his pragmatic position antithetical to the Yippies (pg 19-20); his rhetorical abilities (pgs 7, 27, 29); his messianic qualities (p 113); his donation to the U.N. of the Rubin soicio-genetic computer system (pg 113); and “Who else but a son of heroes, a brilliant mind” (pg 6). His own, personal, inner motivations include: rivalry with his father (pgs 17, 175, and even noted on the back cover text); “up to me to fulfill [the] potential [of his genes] salvaged from the wreck [of the Holocaust]” (pgs 5, 6,13); his own personality/drive/circumstances (pg 5, 16, 27, 143, and throughout); his intense need to answer and beat back the Voices in his head (pgs 5, 6, 10, 16, 19, 29, 102, 143, 145, 164, 176, 252, 272, 273) and “win his case” (pg 6); and the assault on him as a boy (pgs 15, 175).

Second, Caroline’s characterization. Caroline is Jack’s harried wife, a failed artist and mother of his child. Your reviewer may have overlooked all the motivations of Jack I stated above, possibly because when Jack first appears (pg 3), we meet him already in his first position of leadership. But Weichselbaum’s dismissal of Caroline, as “weak” both as a personality and characterization, must be due to something more than lack of reading comprehension. Caroline’s life is detailed from the age of four. I’d say he more than overlooked her — I’d say his own conscious mind actually suppressed any consideration whatsoever of that overwrought wife and mother!

I am not alone in asserting that Caroline is phenomenally well-developed. She is the character which, as the author Barbara Rosenthal tells me, no less a writer and English professor than Dorothy Friedman August exclaimed to her, unbidden, over a year ago, she thought of as the main character of the whole novel! Weichselbaum’s review reveals his blindness to this disturbed female who carries (as her nickname, Cary, suggests) the responsibility for the pragmatics of the others. The book is 314 pages, not the 287 pages Weichselbaum states, although the story alone does comprise 287. On those 287 pages, whereas the name of the pivotal character, "Jack" appears 374 times, the name "Caroline" or "Cary" tops it, appearing 417 times. Weichselbaum’s preposterous assertion that Caroline is weakly developed is refuted by the following:

The reader sees Caroline Klein Rubin in seventeen of the forty-three chapters, and she is principal in fourteen, and even named in the title of, eleven of them (Ch 7: Caroline Meets Letty on the Playground; Ch 8: Letty’s Mother Dying; Ch 9: Caroline and Letty, Carmine Street Pool; Ch 10: The Birth of Jewel; Ch 11: Caroline’s Sketch Pad I; Ch 12: Caroline’s Sketch Pad II; Ch 14: Caroline and Jewel Drive to the Country; Ch 15: Incident at the Abandoned Farmhouse; Ch 18: Caroline and Jewel Drive to the City; Ch 19: Caroline Parks Car and Walks Back Alone; Ch 20: Caroline in the Drug Store; Ch 22: Jack and Caroline Enter the Garden; Ch 35: Caroline at Computer I; Ch 40: Caroline at Computer II. That’s the chapter in which she presses the “kill switch,” which sets the wheels in motion for her husband’s assassination by the hand of her own manipulable friend!! Weichselbaum found the gun in the drawer of her friend Letty’s house, but didn’t follow Caroline’s control of its use.

Caroline is depicted with her mother, her friend, her husband and her daughter. She is depicted in full chapters as a pre-schooler, a young child, a college girl, a failed artist, a wife and a mother. She is seen interacting with people in a park, a suburban street, a bedroom death-bed, a swimming pool, a hospital room, a living room, a farmhouse, a car, a drug store, a party, and negotiating (in high-heeled espadrilles, a white linen suit and oversized purse) crowded NYC avenues and sidewalks. We see her in several haircuts, lipsticks, outfits, jewelry and shoes. We see the different textures of gray and silver strands of hair growing in as she ages, and learn about the different color hair dyes with which she conceals them. We hear about just her hands thirteen times (pgs 48, 52, 75, 76, 77, 89, 90, 101, 116, 120, 125, 131, 139) and just her legs six times (pgs 47, 52, 53, 120, 131, 144). We hear her thoughts about smoking marijuana and watch her smoke it fourteen times, in every scene of her adult life. We see her crashing her car. Four chapters are completely those of her diary and letters — two in her sketchbook, two on computer. We read her ideas about time, about drawing, about papers, pencils, pens and erasers, and even the value of artmaking in terms of viewers’ limited time (pgs 75-76). We hear her in different desperations over her ethnicity throughout her lifetime, seven times (pgs 35, 36, 38, 44, 58, 59, 141). We see her driving her daughter to the country for 11 pages, to the city for another 11 pages, and parking. The reviewer Pam Kray appreciatively noted in “Afterimage” that “it takes Caroline twenty pages and two chapters to park her car and walk to a party in Greenwich Village.”

We read about her developing a crush, keeping house, raising children, having friends, dealing with her husband and his public life (74-75), about friendship (42, 44, 45, 49, 54, 55, 67, 115, 143, 146), flirting (pg 135), fidelity (pg 135), sexually transmitted diseases (pg 141) responsibility (pgs 57, 60, 61,169), expenses (pg 70). She slams a door, bloodying her daughter’s face (pg 77), buys her broken toys (pg 77), and on and on. She is depicted five times at various ages having sex and relating sexual encounters with four different individuals specifically — her girlfriend Letty (pg 45); her husband (pgs 54, 56, 140,145, 264); herself (pg 45); and a US Marine (pg 58), and we hear her memories about sex in the promiscuous Sixties (pg 46). We see and hear her in pain, worry, chagrin and disappointment moments after she gives birth (pgs 52-54). She’s also the only character accompanied by music (pgs 72, 125,130), usually flutes, and she writes a poem about mothering messiahs and achieving peace on Earth (pg 285). We know more details about Caroline than about anyone else in the book!

Shame on you, Lehman Weichselbaum! Your preposterously poor reading-comprehension denies you ability to critique novels. But even worse, sociologically, it indicates your male chauvinist idiological predisposition to critically, totally and blithely, blindly and insistently ignore fraught women like the extraordinarily well-developed character Caroline, and to fault the brilliant author Barbara Rosenthal for faults of your own.