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September 14, 1988 - Image 7

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1988-09-14

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Wednesday, September 14, 1988

Pa+ 7

The Michigan Daily

lot Al

"She now saw that the best a woman Marjorie grows to feel "as if her
life had been strung together with
could ever do with a man would be to long periods of uselessness and
lonesomeness. Here and there on the
love that part of him which existed on- long river she had to follow was an
ly~Bu in he im giaton island of friendship .... But mostly it
ly in her imagination... But if a wo- as Marjorie LeBlanc alone against
man ever became confused and mistook the world."



her imagination for what was real,
so that true life took her off guard,
something terrible would happen;
she would turn into a pillar of salt
like Lot's wife."
From the very beginning of Paula
Sharp's debut novel, The Woman
Who Was Not All There, Marjorie
LeBlanc realizes that life had not
been easy on her. Marjorie a 29 year
old mother of four, loses her hus-
band to a failed marriage and gains a
sense of loneliness in not fulfilling
her role as a southern American wo-
man. But what comes across by the
end of Sharp's novel is not a feeling
of desperation and a lecture on mid-
20th century gender roles, but rather
a celebration of survival and growth
and concrete proof of Sharp's bril-
liant storytelling ability.
Sharp takes great effort to portray
characters which appeal to her rea-
ders' need to be entertained. The
world which begins to open for
Marjorie after she accepts the loss of
Sher husband is not a cardboard world.
It is a world of living that contains
colorful characters, including her in-
dependent sister and her women
.friends with whom she drinks John-
nie Walker and shares jokes about
their lives while playing the card
game "Killer Hearts."
Sharp takes care not to take her
characters for granted and leaves none
of them flat. Even Marjorie's chil-
dren are painstakingly described.
They are first portrayed as somewhat
eerie, each possessing "lantern jaws
and malarial complexions and hair
that burst from their heads like black
milkweek fluff," and are often given
long sections in the novel to describe
their individual traits: Ruth's sense
of rebelliousness, Sam's dreamlike
state and broken heart, Carla's pro-
wess as a thief, and Karen's shame of
the family and Peeping Tom
These portrayals stress how the
children have reacted to their sur-
roundings, which their neighbors

consider stifling because of the lack
of a father figure. But Sharp does not
portray the children as tragic figures.
Instead, she uses them to illustrate
the love that is in the family, and the
concern of the children towards their
mother's loneliness.
Along with Marjorie, the close
women in her life and her children are
also shown coming to terms with the

Marjorie's circle of friends and
family that already have made steps
toward their own personal freedom
struggle with Marjorie's inability
"to rise to the occasion when pre-
sented with the difficulties of being a
single parent, or any kind of dilemma
at all." This inabililty is often
shown in Marjorie's refusal to leave
North Carolina even though she does
feel she is always being left behind.
But Sharp, unlike many of the
characters in the novel, lets Marjorie
grow at her own pace. She gives a
great amount of time, both in pages
and years, to allow this change to
develop fully. It is because Marjorie,
through her upbringing, had been de-
eply embedded in the traditional,
often self-defeating, idea that a
woman can not live without a man,
and can not empower herself. Sharp
shows through the amount of time
that passes in the novel how deeply
people's pasts cut into them.
.Sharp's portrayal of Marjorie' s
surroundings may seem to be quite
harsh on men since many of the male
characters, including Marjorie's ex-
husband Byron Coffin, whom Mar-
jorie calls "Buy My Coffin," are
portrayed as pathetic figures who get
the beating they deserve in the end.
(Byron gets hit by a crowbar by a
child on a ferris wheel and is
eventually ignored by the LeBlancs).
Yet the events that happen are not in
the novel to stress the flaws of men,
but rather to emphasize Majorie' s
growing awareness of the control she
can actually have in her world.
By the endvof The Woman Who
Was Not All There, Marjorie's world
is finally a complete one, full of
humor and self-satisfaction. The skill
that Sharp uses to create this world is
proves that her debut novel should
not be her last.
- Marie Wesaw

A Social History of
Madness: The World
Through the
Eyes of the Insane
By Roy Porter
Weidenfeld and Nicolson
Roy Porter's ambitious account
of madness from Ancient Greece to
the present only delivers half of what
the title promises. Though he
recaptures the visions of some of the
more famous "insane" with a
sensitivity and passion that call into
question the whole concept of
normalcy, A Social History of
Madness frequently fails to weave
their stories into a specific social
history of the orgins and moti-
viations propelling some societal
forces and classes to decide that
others are crazy.
Justly indignant at the medical
methods through which the insane
have been analyzed - as if there
were no connection between their
individual quirks and social maladies
- Porter nevertheless pens a history
of individuals that leaves little room
for more than general criticisms of
those larger maladies. Though he
rightly claims that the stories of the
insane offer excellent mirrors for
exposing the hypocrisies of the
societies around them, the reflections
he offers us are maddeningly opaque'
The approach Porter elects makes
such a problem inevitable, as he
himself seems to recognize. Deciding
to concentrate on the relatively rare
and consequently famous instances in
which those accused of insanity were
able to write their own stories, he is
constrained by what he admits is "a
highly unrepresentative sample of all
mad people." He claims that this
collection of misfits does not con-
stitute a "great madman approach to
history," but how else can one define

a group that includes Margery
Kempe and George III, Friedrich
Nietzsche and Virginia Woolf,
Robert Schumann and Sylvia Plath?
Porter includes almost no
exceptions to this roll call of the
famous, and for good reason: the vast
majority of those imprisioned in
asylums were not - and are not -
those with the means or influence to
have their stories heard, let alone
those with the ability to write their
stories in the first place. With the
exception of a few-off-the-cuff re-
marks, Porter's history remains
largely deaf to the terrifying screams
of the poor, that motley group of

beggars and debtors who were the
victims of what the late French
historian Michel Foucault referred to
as the Great Confinement of the 17th
and 18th centuries.
Foucault's brilliant diptych,
Madness and Civilization and
Discipline and Punish, provides
exactly the kind of social and
historical analyses Porter only claims
to give us. Given Porter's ac-
knowledgement of his deep debt to
Foucault's work, this absence is all
the more astonishing. Foucault offers
a detailed and convincing account of
See Insane, Page 8

The Michigan Ensian is looking for creative students
tc fill the following positions:
Layout Artists
Business Persons
Darkroom Technicians
7:30 Student Publications Bldg. 420 Maynard
(next to Stident Activities Bldg.)
If you would like more information or are unable to
attend meeting, call 764-9425 or 761-0561.

The Woman Who Was
Not All There
By Paula Shart
Harper & Row
changes of the '60s, such as the
sense of sexual and freedom that is
now allowed, and the strong feelings
caused by the Vietnam War. Yet the
other characters' growth is often
much faster than Marjorie's: her
sister leaves on scholarly ex-
peditions; two of her closest friends
decided to go to New York as a
couple; and her children become
strong individuals with their own



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