Catie Rosemurgy, The Stranger Manual, Graywolf, 2010

Reviewed by Emma Ramey

[Review Guidelines]


MISS PEACH is the central figure of Catie Rosemurgy's The Stranger Manual (Graywolf 2010). She was in a sorority, graduated college, and lives in Gold River, where she isn't always welcome. Sometimes combative, sometimes wounded, she imagines herself as an aging British rock star and has been known to date werewolves. Miss Peach's responses in this interview can also be found within the pages of The Stranger Manual.

Disclaimer: Catie Rosemurgy was not informed of this interview with Miss Peach taking place and did not give her permission. In this way, we must consider this an unauthorized interview.

ER: First off, let me start out a little unprofessionally and say that I love The Stranger Manual and I'm thrilled to get the chance to talk to you, the central figure of the book. It isn't everyday that I get to talk to a star. And you are a star.

MP: I am the bowl that holds the light that the Lord will bring to His face and use as His eyes.

ER: And that is a perfect segue to get started. The language of this book has its own light, at times a ray from the heavens, at times a spotlight, a disco ball. Rosemurgy's voice shines and dances and shimmers across the page.

MP: She said she wasn't bragging, she glows at the center of god knows what like a jewel.

ER: One aspect of Rosemurgy's writing that I admire so much, both in this book and her previous book My Favorite Apocalypse, is that bridging between the narrative and the lyric. And that relationship between lyric and narrative poetry is something you discuss in the book, Miss Peach.

MP: There have only ever been two kinds of poetry: narrative and lyric. And some other kind that is sort of lyric but in a new way that sounds like a breakdown but doesn't lead to the hospital because that's a narrative. I say, don't worry: narrative and lyric hate each other, but like the rest of us they share a house and make babies. They buy one another the perfect gifts.

ER: True. And in The Stranger Manual, Gold River is one of those perfect gifts.

MP: You begin with a town because a town is where it begins.

ER: Yes, exactly. Just like you, Gold River feels entirely real, a town I could visit, with neighbors to greet or avoid or have affairs with, places to swim, schools to attend. But as concrete of a place as it is, it also hovers beautifully in abstraction. It is one distinct town and it is town, a concept, a place in which to belong or not belong, where the stranger is looked at talked about judged. A place I could only visit in my own thoughts.

MP: We all have a home, but it's a law of dispersal that not all of us will fit back in it.

ER: And you never seem to quite fit back in it. If you ever belonged in the first place. Even when you imagine yourself as a rock star, it is as an aging rock star, on the way out of whatever life was once led. Is that what being a rock star means to you? A life that will ultimately leave you as an outsider trying to fit back in? Or an individual whose home is in the abstract: not a place but a way of living that can only be a temporary home?

MP: I agree with the central conclusion of all pop songs: you're gorgeous and I'm angry. And not caring is a huge luxury, not to be taken lightly. Fucker.

ER: You are a bad ass, Miss Peach. But that attitude, that individuality, isn't always popular with your neighbors, is it?

MP: Miss Peach is unclearly packaged. Miss Peach's tiny, smashed face is so dear. Miss Peach lives in the woods and embodies betrayal. Now know her face as a sign of where you don't go. Most of the violence, at least has been kept off the page.

ER: Yes, and that creates a lot of the power in this book, how much of the violence is just implied—that mistrust of you by the neighbors, that feeling of otherness and the destruction it can cause to the self. That intensity is present in your voice as well as being present in all of the other speakers throughout the book.

MP: I was uneasy at first about how much I loved myself, but I had to show the rest of you how to do it. I've imagined not knowing my purpose. Such a person must lie awake among the objects in her room. To find something beautiful one must have no idea what it is. It's OK to feel important.

ER: Keep telling me that, Miss Peach. The violence, the intensity of this book also comes back to the language. The sentences and poems flirt with meaning, pull us in with accessibility and then end with a shut door. The rhythms start out with heartbeat and end with freight train.

MP: Take whatever is sharp in you and walk in the other room.

ER: I will, I promise. First, Miss Peach, it seems to me that much of what makes you a stranger in Gold River is how you define being female, how you function within your body, and how others see that body differently than you do. Do you have anything to add to that?

MP: Everyone wants to know about my pubic hair. I think we can agree, at least, that women have legs. Instead I am lucky to have evolved: hidden sex organs. Call me optimistic, but I believe that inside every girl is someone who is not a girl but who looks like one and laughs.

ER: One of the things I admire so much about The Stranger Manual is how Rosemurgy maneuvers so beautifully and smoothly between humor and tragedy. I've mentioned the lyricism and power of these poems, but you, Miss Peach, often make me laugh out loud, perhaps none more than when you explain promiscuity to a toddler. Do you mind explaining it again here?

MP: Say this yellow square block is bored. Say she's bored because she's always been a yellow square block and has always been knocked down with other yellow square blocks...

ER: Yes, please continue.

MP: I like to be at the end and look back at the beginning and see all the stupidity there. Don't think I don't know how stupid I sound. Please, do not think I don't know.

ER: Ok, I won't press. The readers can go to the book to find the rest of your explanation. But that is like you isn't it?

MP: It's impossible to say anything and even harder to shut up. Let's face it: we are always working backwards from a pile of bones. Don't take that personally. When your face isn't better off blown apart, how do you know who really loves you?