Why Not Say What Happened? (Ivana Lowell) pdf, epub, doc

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This slightly flat memoir apparently ticked off many people (is it the feeling that if someone's this glamorous, well-connected and wealthy, they don't really have any business fucking up?) but it wasn't that bad. Her memories of her stepfather (Famous Poet Robert Lowell), mother (Famous Muse/Writer Caroline Blackwood) and grandmother (Famous Bitchy Eccentric) are evocative, even if the prose style is slack, and if the details of her relationship with Mr Miramax drag on, her struggle to choose between three possible fathers is oddly compelling. The psychological sense, early on, of unstable ground and a puzzling blurriness depicted here are familiar from Angelica Garnett's more vivid and far more petulant memoir, but where Garnett felt consistently cut off from her real father Duncan Grant and muffled by her mother, Ivana Lowell tries to emphasize her connection with Robert Lowell (she took his name at her mother's suggstion) with a kind of touching dignity, even if he was part of her family for less than a decade, off and on. She has many small, almost momentary memories of him reading plays out loud with her, asking her opinions on his poetry (not far-fetched at all; Lowell dragged EVERYONE into editing his poetry), playing word games, treating her with love and respect. What makes these moments almost heartbreaking is how obviously highly cherished they are, like small personal mementos of someone long dead that are rarely handled because losing them would be so terrible.

Her love for her mother — who was, clearly, a terrible mother, absolutely no good at it, and who equally clearly loved her children and was a good if wildly unpredictable friend after they grew up — is also clear, and surprisingly warm and affectionate. The chilly disapproving biography by Nancy Schoenberger, which stuck Blackwood on a pin and stared at her with beady eyes, isn't supplanted but illuminated by Lowell's memories of her mother's quips and catchphrases ("Too bad, even for us!" is a favourite). Lowell also developed love for her (rather terrible) grandmother, and it's oddly poignant to see her trying to connect to the background Caroline so determinedly cut and ran from. I also liked her emphasis on Blackwood's writing: that no matter how many the men, how wild the nights, how plentiful the bottles, her mother would determinedly sit herself down, focus on the page, and write.

That said, this book is probably most rewarding to someone already interested in Blackwood, Robert Lowell, or both, but if you are, there are a lot of little hidden gems. If not, it might be as off-putting as a remarkable number of GoodReaders seem to think it is.

OH WAIT, Obligatory GoodReads Review Photo:

Caroline Blackwood

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