Life of a Star by Jane Unrue

I pick the scissors up. A sparkling vision fills my head, those long-gone Christmas Eves and other nights-before when I would feel the glittering gaze of someone peeking in to see if I was just pretending to be asleep or if I really was asleep. I clip it, thread it, knot it at the end, and tell myself I wonder if I’m acting now.

I tried not reading anything about Life of a Star, after being really intrigued by this excerpt from HTMLGIANT. Until I read Gary Lutz’s review in The Believer, I thought the title’s star was celestial. Unrue plays with the connotations of stardom (as well as my initial confusion about her book’s “star”) by filling her tiny book with images of grounded-ness, and burial. These juxtapositions aren’t the only interesting aspects of her novella.

Almost every block of Unrue’s writing is confined to a single page, before she moves onto a new thought or focus. Sometimes these new thoughts don’t see any development, sentences infrequently lacking completeness, often being poetically interrupted by new thoughts:

[…] And I assumed, as he removed
his crewman’s hat and coat, his shoes, his socks, his belt,
his trousers, shorts, and laid them on the wing-back chair,
that if I were to run from cabin out to deck, the view into
the sea would be, at that strange moment, automatically
discernable from all those stolen glimpses through the
heavy black-out curtains of my youth. This sea was real.
But what about that girl? I said. Last night I saw you
talking to – I heard –
To sink down to the bottom of the sea and stay there, stuck there: real.

Better yet:

Begin with tracing paper, laying it across the
Adding to your own voice someone else’s pretty lilting
lift, a deeper cadence, any sound embellishment, is similar
to what it is. As easy as a
Capturing the twiggy outline, for example, of a spindle
tree in winter, rendering the fragile twiggy outline of its
Pin the tracing paper to the
“Dear, let’s go in here instead, we’ve been in there so very,
very -”
Snow on branches makes for softer outlines on a
Tracing twigginess into your
Carefully lay the paper on whatever it is you want to
Press down gently with your
You want it? Go ahead and take it.
Just keep track of what’s been added, taken away, or
Work your magic.
Use your needle.

Some pages read like a chaotic first draft of a page. They also read like accurate depictions of human consciousness, messily, confusingly unrefined, while still beautifully expressive. The book also jumps between time periods, unclearly, excitingly. In describing herself on the page the first-person narrator favors ambiguity over clarity, and it gives the reader the same sense of unease we’re led to believe that the narrator has experienced her whole life.

I would try to expand, more fully, upon Gary Lutz’s observations about what the book says about stardom, but my sentences are banal next to his. I will add that the description of the childhood rivalry alluded to in the book reminded me of the competitive drive an actress must feel when walking into an audition. Which got me thinking that for an actress, and an actress’ thought process, every day must be a sort of audition, a reminder of one’s replaceability. A world where she is always fighting for a role to play.

The gist of the book’s concern can be gathered from the first excerpt posted above (which reminded me, again, of “Good Old Neon,” where the narrator feels insufferable anxiety about whether or not he’s being genuine). The book’s a quick read that I’ll try to re-visit later this summer to study its sentence and story structure.

Related Link:

  • A short and thoughtful review of the book at Bookslut.

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One Response to Life of a Star by Jane Unrue

  1. Pingback: when all our days are numbered marching bands will fill the streets & we will not hear them because we will be upstairs in the clouds by Sasha Fletcher « Poor Sap Publishing

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