Elevate Difference

Driving with Dvořák: Essays on Memory and Identity

Fleda Brown’s writes almost as though she were paid by word. Every description feels as though it lasts for hours. The writing in Driving with Dvořák is self-indulgent, as though she were doing it for herself alone.

So who is really being indulged in Driving with Dvořák? The reader is deprived of the use of their imagination, and the writer dooms the endeavor. In an effort to connect with her audience, Brown name drops (for example, she compares Dvořák’s tone to Steven Spielberg’s), which is supposed to make Dvořák more accessible to the audience by seeming less “academic.” In doing this, Brown constantly underestimates her reader.

The collection centers on Brown’s parents. Brown’s mother, Mabel, is a religious housewife raised by religious parents. She is simple-minded, Sinatra-loving, and consistent in mind and body.

Brown’s father seems to be the exact opposite of her mother: a failed academic, athiestic, and unpredictable. While this is a book about Brown's memories and relationship with her entire family—parents, brother, sisters, and the following generation—the bulk of the writing is concerned with her father. He resents that Mabel does not like sex, and women are devils to him. This prompts Brown to recount the truism: men who are unable to understand women seem cursed to live with them.

In some ways, Brown wishes she could have it all—mother and woman, caretaker and receiver—the way feminists often seem to believe is possible. In the first story of the book, Brown describes the experience of changing her name. Having married young, she only had her family name for seventeen years; now, so long after establishing herself as an author whose name is her brand, she decides to change it back. It is as though Brown seeks to revert her identity to its originally form.

In reflecting on her relationships with others, Brown elucidates her view of herself. More proactive and visceral than her mother, more successful than her father, and somehow more grounded than them either, one gets the impression that, while her father was chained and her mother sainted, Brown lives for herself and not for others.

Written by: Elisheva Zakheim, February 22nd 2010