It happens rarely but it does happen and I call it “a moment of grace” when you receive a text that courts you, seduces and calls you, imposes itself on you, keeps you reading — famished as you are for quality, strength, power, humor, poetry! — famished as you are for a real author, a mind and soul, a poet above all else.
A woman writes by cutting words and animal pictures from newspapers and magazines. By joining the pictured with “the words for which they are longing,” she makes balance out of chaos. Napoleon’s Mare, thirteen chapters and a section of prose poems, is a diatribe, a discontinuous narrative — as much about writing as about the bewildering process of constructing a self. A woman performs her own cesarean. High-school girls are erasing the skin on their hands. A commune goes to court for custody of a lesbian’s child. These pieces of story are adhesive, pressing. The narrator’s faith in the power of words to shape change is countermanded by the evidence of the damage words can cause — their separate existence apart from the best intentions. At the same time, it is their separate existence that entrances her.
Lou Robinson writes to make a “self,” a daunting and beautiful project that makes her writing brim with mystery. In addition to generating this self (and body), her character, a woman making “collages,” is also trying to make sense of her times. Implicit here is an ambitious and intelligent sense of humor. Napoleon’s Mare, driven hard by the poetry of Ms. Robinson’s sentences, rides through dreams, memoir, and sexual history to reach us. And it gets there.
Passionately inventive, Napoleon’s Mare subverts the chronological form of a memoir with the “mak[ing] balance” of collage. This lateral writing is flush with the excessiveness of a woman’s mode of telling, the wild energy of lesbian desire, the kaleidoscopic practice of a singular voice. “You illustrate your passage ahead of you,” Lou Robinson writes, as she does it.
Napoleon’s Mare is a narrative that pulls the reader into its eddy, into the thinking of its own highly principled terms. Full of light and darkness, it sets the mind — in an exquisite balance of pleasure and pain — spinning towards new horizons, figures. Lou Robinson is a writer to watch.