The Descent of Alette

The Descent of Alette - Alice Notley

"The Descent of Alette" proves to be a difficult book to place, offering both pluses and minuses throughout its pages that manifest themselves both in the style and content. I had my own journey of debating whether I liked the book or didn't as I read it, and after giving it a couple hours to think over I 'd say that 3.5 is a fair rating, seeing as how I enjoyed the book but did have several issues with it.

It's best to admit that I haven't had much experience with this format of poetry, which is most likely why I didn't particularly enjoy it. The author's note made perfect sense, however there were many times over the course of the book that the apostrophes feel like they lose their meaning or are not placed where they, logically, should probably be. Because of that, rereading a passage several times became a typical thing. I get that certain parts of the text were meant to be emphasized, but for me it didn't work as well. Usually I let writing speak for itself - if it's good writing, it will be powerful by itself without needing to force the reader to look at it under a microscope, in this case the apostrophes. And there were wonderful passages throughout the book, beautiful imagery and metaphors that were intricately crafted. But the weaker parts of the text were also emphasized by the apostrophes, so it became a duality that contradicted itself. The format also made it difficult to notice when someone was actually speaking, as was the recurring trend of minimal to no punctuation, specifically periods. Again, I understand this was the author's intent, but for me this wasn't something I was too keen on.

The story itself was straightforward, even a little hard to get into at the beginning. It got easy however to get into the pattern of examples of situations and details being used to move the plot along, and I particularly enjoyed the recurring imagery of flowers and how the writing triggered several of the senses. With each book up until Book Four I would say the plot successfully built on itself and the tension mounted. But in Book Four the opposite happened, and the tension dwindled until the very end, and the resolution somehow felt self-defeating. It's puzzling, for a writer to address issues such as feminism and respect to nature and harmony and then to give such a floppy ending. It left a bitter aftertaste for me and a somewhat negative response to the book as a whole.

I'm not big on feminism, which is another big reason why I probably had some struggles, and a partially bitter relationship, with the book. The concept of imprisoned people in the subway and the tyrant were all wonderful, and I enjoyed the fact that the tyrant's focus was too much on the beauty of tragedy rather than its horror. But the metaphors and imagery of mother nature and the abused mother took their toll over the course of reading. I wanted to scream "I get it!", because at times it got too uncomfortably propagandist to me. As much as I agree with natural harmony and the concept of the female entity, I feel this book went slightly overboard with this, especially when our narrator Alette was so poorly characterized and established while the evil-ness of the tyrant was almost drilled into the reader's mind. But the book demands to be taken as it is, so the best thing is to let it be and not poke at it. Other people have loved the book before me and see it as perfection, so it is really a mater of taste, priorities, and comfort zone.

The writing was beautiful, that I admit. I loved the intensity of the words, the feeling that I was on the same crowded subway with all the people, or seeing the gruesomeness of the headless first mother. The mansion of the Tyrant was another great juxtaposition to the horror of the underground and the rest of the world. Best of all perhaps was the way in which the Tyrant's death was come about, the description of the subway as arteries and the rivers of blood that were his heart. There are many lines that are worth remembering from this book and images to pay attention to, and I applaud the author for writing such sensational poetry.

I'll come back to this one in the future. "The Descent of Alette" calls for a more mature and well-rounded reader, something I haven't achieved yet but which will come with age. My first read of this book however left a generally positive reaction to the work. There is much to take out of it, if the overly feminist writing doesn't scare a potentially curios reader away.