Poetry News

The Imaginary Good Town: Jackie Clark on Lucy Ives

By Harriet Staff


A good one: Jackie Clark reviews nineties (Tea Party Republicans Press 2013) by Lucy Ives for The Rumpus. "What does it mean to be a girl? Does it mean anything? I’m not suggesting that nineties has an answer to these questions, but it does start with a cryptic allegory that gives us some kind of framework through which to read the rest of the book." More:

It begins, “A long time ago we invented a game about civilization,” and goes on to explain how an imaginary bus driver gets the imaginary people from an imaginary good town to go with him to Torture Town, despite its unusual and ominous name. Once they arrive, they are persuaded to enter the town’s factory, and then the “invisible dignitaries and citizens of Torture Town” have a good laugh and the factory springs into action: “shiny red domino-shaped blocks began to appear in a line on the opposite side of the factory from where the good citizens had entered. It was the object of the game.”

Now, this doesn’t necessarily sound like a game that is going to work out for the people from the imaginary good town. What would it mean to live as though every decision you made was part of a game?

What would it mean not to? Just kidding. Clark continues:

I couldn’t help thinking of Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers while reading nineties. The adolescent shenanigans of the girls in that movie are definitely higher-stakes. They involve sticking up a restaurant (with fake guns) for money to go on spring break, ending up in jail, then falling in with a local thug, sticking up other spring breakers with him, and climatically using actual guns to take out an entire rival gang. These girls are older than the characters in nineties, but it’s a similar pattern of behavior in that there is no forethought or concern about potential repercussions. They are “playing with fate” and are turned on by it. I think this is true of every generation, nineties or otherwise. Perhaps it’s just true of youth. The scary thing about this playing with fate is that said fate can be accessed in further and more nuanced ways aside from just credit fraud. The Internet and social media can inspire such cruel, desperate, and depressing behavior (think of all the stories of kids who kill themselves because they are bullied online, because of their sexuality or otherwise), and we are still learning how this behavior will be understood through the eyes of a generation of humans who have never experienced life without it.

Clark considers the author's relationship to time:

One could argue that to write the book now, presumably at least fifteen years after the fact, indicates some type of remorse, whether or not that remorse is represented in the book. One could argue that the book is true to the experience of those events at the time of those events. It’s an honest depiction of doing something really fucked up and not really knowing how to deal with it. How the “regular” things of girlhood like make-up and talking on the phone can be mixed in with this more complex understanding of how we exist in the world.

Early on in nineties, the narrator confesses, “In real life, I never do anything. I let things happen. I watch.” I think that’s true of most thirteen-year-old girls. You don’t really do anything in “real life,” because what the fuck is “real life” and how is it different from the life you had been living?

Read the full review here.