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Robins, Corinne—A Girl’s Life
Robins, Corinne. "Review of A Girl's Life." Rain Taxi 36.

In A Girl's Life, artist Susan Bee and writer Johanna Drucker deconstruct popular teen romance with a tongue-in-the-ear, mud-in-your-eye look at the dream antics of pre-pubescent Becki and Dawn, "Becki's best friend for life." On the book's acid-green cover the two be-lipsticked nymphets rear up out of painted brush strokes, and off they go through pages which treat lush love, femme prose, and a too-knowing innocence.

The book is also a showcase for Drucker's awesome verbal-visual skills and Bee's gloriously witty painted photocollages. The questions of what is a book and what is a text, as well as the pitfalls of narrative, are send-ups for the reader, carried out in half a dozen different colors and typefaces—the work of Drucker, a writer, art historian, and book artist whose works include The Alphabetic Labyrinth, The Century Of Artists' Books, and Figuring The Word. Drucker's prose pillories the roller-coaster extremes of adolescent anguish. The language of melodrama dances around the page, changing color and catching us up short; the text refuses to stay still, and demands we turn pages around to read up, down, and across.

Bee is a painter/ book artist whose earlier artists' books, Little Orphan Anagram, Tailspin, and Bed Hangings, featured heroines in high-necked dresses, figures of innocence in a world of violence, desire, and sex. In A Girl's Life, nudity is also absent—too threatening in the teenage world, where manners, clothes, and words are everything. Bee makes merry with the page's white space in a unique fashion, using snapshots, news photos, and images from picture books, then painting and photocopying flowers and snakes branching out from unlikely green stems, while in the foreground Becki wrestles "with blueberry glitter polish on her nails." Nail polish is no small matter where a girl's motto is being glam forever! Meanwhile, the printed word remains omnipresent along with the artist's brush stroke as A Girl's Life joyously plays with retouched (tarted up) photographs collaged into the painted field of its pages.

Artist's books are the achievement of word plus picture, a realization of the old Surrealist dream of collaboration among artists and writers. Such books "investigating verbal/ visual relations" have been a specialty of Granary Books since the early '80s. But A Girl's Life goes beyond its "artists books/ poetry" category, and with its sleight-of-sight humor is likely to become an object of universal delight.





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