Monday, April 29, 2013

The Better Bombshell: Writers and Artists Redefine the Female Role Model, edited By Charlotte Austin

The Better Bombshell: Writers and Artists Redefine the Female Role Model, edited By Charlotte Austin

By Luke Salisbury

This large size paperback is a collection of short fiction and essays each coupled with artwork to "redefine" as the subtitle has it, "the female role model." "Bombshell," for those not old enough to remember, is a word from the 1940s and 50s equivalent to "broad," "dish," "tomato," "whistle bait," describing a woman found desirable by men, and not for her personality. The use of the word in the title seems provocative and retro. Fear not. The Better Bombshell is as PC as any academic at a New England college might wish.

But this isn’t bad. In fact, the book is good, some of it quite good. Bombshell doesn’t try to be a bombshell. It isn’t shocking, furious or preachy. It makes us feel. There is much here. The word goddess frequently appears; we have the obligatory drag queen; a mountain climbing instructor whose male instructees puke and seek the meaning of life; Angela Davis; a woman superhero with six arms (And six armpits as the story wittily points out); a very good short story Amazon: Three Versions with the memorable line "High school: four year torture chamber for anyone with an original or idiosyncratic thought;" Treatises on Desire, an intense essay from the Georges Batailles post structuralist deconstructed masochist academic void; a fine short story Important Things To Know with sections titled Important Things to Know About Loose Women, Important Things To Know About Frigid Women, Important Things To Know About Crazy Women, Important Things To Know About Mother; a script for a thirty second movie of the Biblical Yael murdering a sleeping man (A male author. Is this a male fantasy of female empowerment?); a very good story of difficult sexual initiation and sad consequence with quotes from Chapter 17 of the Book of Revelations; and more, much more, all accompanied by artwork ranging from a pretty ten year old girl holding an automatic weapon (De rigueur), a fine photo essay of a fashion model caught in that role and New York City, a male mountain climber showing his naked butt (Go figure), the drag queen preparing, young women looking in mirrors, and so on.

Dave Barry’s essay What Men Want is marvelous. What they want is not hair styles and shoes. His tone is perfectthat combination of cynicism, whimsy and desparation that underlies much male attitude. Rick Bass’s essay on fatherhood (Two daughters), nature, and how he might do some of it again, is simply beautiful, and bears rereading, perhaps many times. The piece that broke new ground for me was A History of My Breast Cancer in Bombshells by Eva Saulitis, with equally profound art by Kate Protage. This is the most powerful description of cancer I have read. Not sensational, self-pitying or melodramatic, but the tale told from the inside, of denial, fear, terrible awareness, and tremendous understanding. The graphite and ink black and white images capture the abstract but deadly feel of that silent, terrifying intruder that will affect one in four American women.

The Better Bombshell is an ambitious and intriguing project. It succeeds. It’s worth the money and your time. Let us all have more complex role models.

**** Luke Salisbury is a professor of English at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston.

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