Elevate Difference

O Fallen Angel

Mommy, Maggie and Malachi may be the first to give Mrs. Dalloway a real run for her money. In O Fallen Angel Kate Zambreno deconstructs stream of consciousness and successfully reworks it for the twenty-first century. The inner most thoughts of Mommy, a homemaker in Juicy pants with more than a feminine mystique; her adult daughter Maggie, the product of nature and nurture with a penchant for penis and depression; and Malachi, a mysterious prophet of sorts, are interwoven into a story less about the inner workings of a family and more about commenting on everything from therapy to grandparenting.

Each character’s interspersed sections has its own consistent rhythm and structure, which is how the book garners its real power. Mommy with her nearly constant declarations and commands! Maggie with her brooding staccato blocks. Malachi with his poetry and delusions. Their thoughts run on parallel tracks with very little intersection, yet the book feels completely cohesive. Zambreno defers to her characters to tell their own stories while using the third person throughout. This is no easy feat, and she seamlessly pulls it off.

What Zambreno fails to do is hide her blatantly feminist stance. The themes of gender, sex and relationships are everywhere. We see a relatively mainstream feminist perspective peeking through. We know what messages Zambreno wants the reader to leave with—reproductive justice, failures of gender norms, etc. Only Maggie really pushes these ideological boundaries with her fantasizing about men loving her, and when that reality fails, taking advantage of her, and when that fails loving her again. But the issue is not her ever-lost love but her perception of it. Maggie really plays in the grey areas of empowerment and sexual freedom and promiscuity, pushing the reader to question their own views.

In comparison, Mommy embodies the prototypical vices of the fifties housewife, loneliness cloaked in exuberance. She spends most of her days thinking of how good she is to her husband, making him sandwiches with extra mayo just the way he likes them. She seems to stand in for all that the second wave was fighting against.

Malachi would be the comic relief to all of this theory if any of what he had to say was comic or a relief. Instead his doomsday poetry, possibly the nearest thing to truth in Zambreno’s eyes, comes from the only man featured, throwing yet another wrench in the feminist mix. Is Mommy’s black and white and Maggie’s grey area just eking for the space of something greater beyond gender—like humanism? I’ll let you be the judge.

Written by: Nicole Levitz, October 3rd 2010