"cool for you"
Author: Eileen Myles
Soft Skull Press
Review by Kara Jean Bianco Williamson
Cool For You begins like a nostalgic joy ride tracing the roots of protagonist Eileen Myles, in and out of Boston and ends years later with a POV down Avenue D. This nonfiction novel lingers and pauses on some moments, only to shift and turn the next. The tone is cool detachment and endearing softness and it grabs the reader, who rides shotgun on the journey, from the first page:
"I was driving a cab in Cambridge. I know I've told you this before but I'm lonely tonight and it's raining out. The cab was yellow of course and it operated, I mean it got customers by one of those radios..."
Read as vignettes the language of this circular novel is immediate and gritty. Better to read cover to cover in one sitting to grasp the wit and invention of a storyteller with a poet's eye for detail.
Landscapes vary and blend. Boston, San Francisco and New York merge like one long highway where past and present run wild. Encounters with institutions persist. Institutions set the stage for various scenes and Myles plays with meaning as actor and audience. Catholic school nuns haunt and amuse her. Inside the North Building, where she works for the mentally impaired, debates boil down to chocolate stars and cigarette butts, to tame the Bobby Doyle's of the ward. A mental institution that once held her grandmother captive fuels the protagonist's quest to go"inside." Camp Bradley, Umass (Boston), Harvard Square and the Kennedy's also point to pervasive subtext: How are the marginalized working class girl, tomboy, lesbian, poet or astronaut shaped in the world? Myles' messages hit like silent punches.
"This little apartment in Boston's North End. Crying in my workshirt in my room. Really not a girl anymore. A boy on her bed in the world."
In the end it is the human voice that triumphs and Myles who reminds us that words fade but signs remain as markers pointing backward and forward in a never-ending journey:
"I believe in sound. It's the tiniest shaking, when the colors are gone, and smells disperse, the shaking continues, its effect is infinite, standing in a bowl of sand and fine reeds and wind which is something I do not understand, the lap lap lap of water speaking to the moon, struggling bug, nothing in the world staying still..."