The Romantic Mansplanation of Gender Relations
A review of I'm Antisocial, Coffee Never Lies, Parts 1 & 2 by Mallory Smart (Bottlecap Press, 2015)
As a warning to the reader, this review will inevitably feel like a man mansplaining mansplaining, like that McSweeney’s post.
After her first chapbook Fear Like a Habit came out in 2014, I expected her next writing to be an ambitious, maximalist tome of poetry expounding her more Romantic tendencies and flourishes. I am so glad that did not happen.
Instead, what readers have here is a work no less ambitious but pared down to a more realistic texture so that you can see the seams at play. The first part (and then as it turns out the whole book in general) is divided into roughly four sections, which I demarcated in my copy BECAUSE THAT’S HOW I ROLL. It has an intro, a romance/life section, a mansplanation/gender relations section, and an outro/return to romance/life. But eventually, it ended up that my divisions didn’t work, as the sections bleed seamlessly into one another.
With this chapbook, she has traded in cryptic musings about industrialization for extremely heartfelt and clear (if still contextually cryptic) statements about her experiences in a confusing and messy world. It’s very honest in a completely unforced way.
In the intro and section I, Mallory concerns herself with love, and these pages have some of the most understated, beautiful passages in I’m Antisocial. Much of it is anthropomorphized cat- talk, (yet somehow not creepy) such as “every harvest moon, if i wasn’t weird,/ i’d hide below the covers of your bed/ and camp beside your legs.” This personification, this transference of emotions onto things in our emotional lives but which we take for granted (cats, the moon) lends the book a lot of its pathos and carries us into the more philosophical second book as well as the leaner later sections.
In the second installment, which contains sections II-IV, the stakes become higher as Mallory shifts her focus to work life (“After I quit my job at a privatized workout company”), anti- establishment musings (“the system didn’t allow that”), politics (“You only live once/ What will you die for?”) and death (“limbs surrounding the corpses of their life’s purpose”), the words shifting down the small pages
till they enter your subconscious and get stuck there like a thought you wanted to get rid of but can’t, which I think is the point of this book? I’m not sure. Something about work, life, love, being sick of a routine and the little things you have to return to in order to make sense of the world around you, like the necessary stasis of a therapy only you yourself hold the keys to. Something like that?
The most solid, concrete thing this book explores is mansplaining, which it does hella well, and this section (the second and last part of the first chap) is the best section in the book because, well, concrete is better, duh. Plus in this section Mallory allows the words to speak for themselves and provides more words for speaking in general.
Mallory is of course banking on the ineffability when it comes to these topics, but, for the topics themselves, this is not necessarily a bad thing. It allows them space to breathe, something which the structure of the two books enables easily, and why it was very smart to produce two chapbooks instead of one book. (Other than, well, money. But this isn’t a Hobbit sitch, more a last Harry Potter sitch, where the integrity of the series remains wholly intact.)
Sometimes the structure surrounding the books does too much of the work, especially in the first installment when the topic shifts from love to mansplanation/gender politics to the enormity of the world, which causes a bit of a cognitive disconnect between the different sections and not in an entirely good way.
The book(s) of course work better together, but which one you want (if you only get one, which should in truth be a crime punishable by death) depends on what you want out of a short chapbook: would you rather have a heartfelt description of love followed by trenchant yet succinct analysis of gender relations and white male privilege, or on the other hand a more diffuse and nuanced outworking of different aspects of society such as work, sex and politics. If the first go with Part I, if the latter go with Part II.
Really it’s one beautiful work, as spread out as Mallory’s thoughts and as somehow simultaneously diffuse and focused a work as you’re likely to encounter, well, ever. (And part of this is because of the illustrations which deserve their own review but alas.) All of this of course is different from reading them, so go do that. Go do that now.
Blake Wallin has had poems published in Maudlin House, Solipsist, Kodon, Prairie Light Review, and Atrocity Exhibition. His chapbook of poems, Otherwise Jesus, was published by Ghost City Press in 2015. He spends his time writing grant proposals, investigating whether process philosophy really can avoid the transcendental turn, and tweeting @Blake_Wallin.