This enigmatic Carve classic by Stephanie Dickinson, which appeared in the summer 2007 issue, follows thirteen-year-old prodigy Dalloway as she spends Easter vacation with her father and grandmother in Manhattan. Both father and grandmother constantly hog the spotlight, leaving Dalloway feeling largely invisible. (Those familiar with her namesake from Virginia Woolf’s novel may remember that Clarissa Dalloway, too, “had the oddest sense of herself being invisible”). So invisible in fact that during a strange encounter—a seeming meet-cute—between Dalloway and a suitor, she, being unused to acknowledgment, rebuffs his advances.
She also has a preoccupation with hybrid animals and likens her family to them (her transgendered father being a cross between male and female; and her grandmother, having just undergone cosmetic surgery, being a cross between young and old). As Dalloway soon learns, she is consubstantial with her father and grandmother, when after spying upon a prostitute in distress—whom she finds equally invisible—she comes to her rescue only to find herself shooed away. Though they are similar, she discovers they are not quite the same species; she is nothing but a domesticated hybrid in the wilderness that is New York City who has happened upon a lioness. Just as the protected existence of Woolf’s Clarissa Dalloway had left her ignorant of the experience of the lower classes, so too is the Dalloway of this story ignorant of life outside her bubble.
Bolstering this offbeat cautionary tale throughout is its gimlet humor. In one scene, we find Dalloway showcasing the ennui of the affluent as she responds to scam emails (to pass muster, she tells us, the more broken their English must be). During an errand in which animal rights activist Dalloway is sent to buy chicken take-out, she in her indignation calls the restaurant’s sauce brush a toilet bowl brush and calls to attention the flatulence of mashed potatoes. Grandma Lorna, her own skin still tender from a full face-lift, is a constant source of humor, at one point ironically asking her son, “How is that chicken prepared? Pete, you know I don’t like skin.”
Dickinson also limns so well the frightening and majestic backdrop of New York, the “sexiest address in the world.” In one stunning passage, we are told: “You can’t hold onto yourself here, not when the Virgin Megastore and MTV signs tower and the digital headline making its way around the New York Times Building announces NORTH KOREA RESUMES WEAPONS GRADE PLUTONIUM. I don’t feel my arms and legs or the breath in my mouth. Everything happens fast. Lion King Theater and Muddy Waters Blues Club. Zanzibar.” Thanks to Dickinson’s mesmerizing narrative, it’s easy for the reader to get lost in the city, even if just on the page.
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