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March 20, 2002 - Image 9

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The Michigan Daily, 2002-03-20

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The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, March 20, 2002 - 9

'Risky' meditates on
anals of writing

Marlette fails in poor 'Bridge'

By Maureen McKinney
Daily Arts Writer

By Katie Cloud
Daily Arts Writer
There have been magnificent debates
over the canons of literature studied
within higher education. The argument
that classical literature has lost its
scholastic importance to the genres of
pulp fiction or pop culture has been
greatly examined, yet notice to peda-

The text's primary focus is on teach-
ing with only a marginal study on the
actual writing. In fact, it is a reflection
of a long researched survey from his
English 300 course: "A Research Pro-
ject on the Benefits and Risks of Per-
sonal Writing and Self Disclosure in an
Expository Writing Course," in which
he compiled student works that were
submitted voluntarily. Though the text

These days, it seems that when an
artist or performer reaches a pinnacle in
their field, it is the natural progression to
attempt to replicate that excellence else-
where. Supermodels want to be actress-
es, singers want to be
screenwriters and now, r
apparently a certain car-
toonist is attempting liter-
ary greatness. ThatH
particular editorial car- THE
toonist is the Pulitzer- By Dou
Prize-winning Doug Harpe
Marlette. Marlette is the
artist responsible for the long-running
cartoon "Kudzu," as well as countless
other editorial publications.

gogical literature within
an academic arena is not
as widely disputed. Eng-
lish Professor Jeffrey
Berman of the University
of Albany delivers such a
text that explores the aca-
demic and personal
process involved in writ-
ing that is beneficial in
university writing courses


By Jeffrey Berman

gravitates more towards
human and pedagogical
research for professors and
instructors, there is ample
leisure and educational
value for students as well.
A majority of the text is
his students actual writing
that is provocative to writ-
ers because it is non-
threatening and real - an
scarce in many university

er C

as a mechanism of instruction, reflec-
tion and comparison to both beginning
and experienced writers.
Berman's "Risky Writing" is the last
of the trilogy that researches the process
of personal writing. His first investiga-
tion, "Diaries of an English Professor,"
follows the benefits of diary writing as
well as his students' responses to its
therapeutic effects. The second, "Sur-
viving Literary Suicide" delves into the
effects of reading suicidal literature
from a graduate student perspective.
"Risky Writing" furthers Berman's
research into the tools of expressing
personal and/or social themes through
literature by looking at how writing
one's personal experience can create
compelling and honest literary works.
All three texts have been written from
Berman's personal experiences as a
teacher and all involve student respons-
es to Berman's pedagogical style.
"Risky Writing" is not a self-motivat-
ed nor self-indulgent reflection of
Berman's research or teaching. He sim-
ply maintains the vantage of an observ-
er and a guide encouraging confidence
in literary self-disclosure to his stu-
dents. He never assumes the position of
therapist or psychologist as he consis-
tently reminds his audience that he isn't
completely aware of the mental battles
involved in personal disclosure. He
attempts to minimize the "risk" in self-
disclosure. In contrast, Berman does not
defend the marketing of self-disclosure
in such television programs as "Jerry
Springer" or "Ricki Lake," labeling
public tragedy as a "vulgarity circus."
He follows this same standard in his
classroom and excludes student entries
that are written for mere shock value
and personal recognition from his

effect often

writing and literature classes.
Berman does not insert his own
grammar, spelling or stylistic correc-
tions, presenting the students writings in
their true form. The writing reflects uni-
versal as well as individual issues that
many have battled or are battling within
the literary world. "Our relationship had
always been religion neutral. Being
inside some one else's house of worship

became a frightening experience for
me...I began to feel more and more
uncomfortable as the day progressed. I
took my sadness and projected it on his
family." The text pushes its student
readers to question their own personal
writing style, form and process and is a
positive means for comparative self-
"Risky Writing" is a profitable read
due to its confessional range, juxtapos-
ing of Berman's interpretations with
individual student analysis and its
unconventional examination of a
writer's training. Though the text may
be slow and tedious to finish due to its
mechanical strategy, it is a stimulating
emergence from the common discourse
of literary academia.

In his semi-autobiographical first
novel "The Bridge," Marlette explores
themes ranging from familial under-
standing to labor unrest. The protagonist
of the novel is, not surprisingly, an edi-
torial cartoonist named Pick Cantrell.
The novel opens with Cantrell incensed
over his New York newspaper's publica-
tion of an apology to one
of his more controversial
cartoons. Cantrell con-
0 fronts his publisher, loses
his temper after his pub-
RIDGE lisher calls him a cracker
Marlette and proceeds to beat his
Collins boss severely. After the
initial high, reality sets in,
and Cantrell is forced to return to his
boyhood home in North Carolina, job-
less and with his tail between his legs.
Once down South, Cantrell focuses
on the arduous repairs of his newly
bought, decaying mansion and the care
of his young son while his wife takes
over as the family breadwinner. He is
also forced to confront his countrified
relatives, complete with Mama Lucy,
the domineering family matriarch and
Cantrell's childhood nemesis. Cantrell's
eccentric and drawling clan is hardcore
Southern and the rather extensive
descriptions of their tobacco-chewing
and lawlessness grow tiresome.
There is a rather interesting plot line
that centers on a little-known textile
strike in the 1930s. Marlette's own

grandmother was a participant in the
event, and the character of Pick's grand-
mother, Mama Lucy is a homage of
sorts. Pick's investigation of the event
reveals that Mama Lucy was, in fact,
stabbed by a National Guardsman dur-
ing the textile strike, and this knowledge
provides the impetus for their eventual
understanding of one another.
Marlette's novel does have some
mildly engrossing plot lines, especially
with regard to the labor strike, but it's
hard to wade through all of the iced tea
and wisteria in the interim. Marlette's
characters are so one-dimensionally
Southern that the novel becomes very
predictable and loses a good deal of its
potential for humor. Pick, while
somewhat witty, is also agonizingly
introspective and whiny. The writing
style is very similar to that of Pat
Conroy's in "The Prince of Tides."
It's no surprise that Conroy hyperbol-
ically stated that "The Bridge" was
the best novel to come out of North
Carolina since "Look Homeward
Marlette's first attempt at fiction,
albeit semi-autobiographical, leaves
something to be desired. While he
does a nice job of illuminating a
long-forgotten labor strike, his writ-
ing style and character development
are predictable and saccharine. Per-
haps in this instance, it's good to
stick with what one's good at.

Doug Marlette ... Or Neil Diamond?

> ,.,

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