Poetry News

Sophie Collins's Who Is Mary Sue? Reviewed at The Rumpus

By Harriet Staff
Sophie Collins, Who Is Mary Sue, cover

Jeannine Hall Gailey guides readers through Sophie Collins's most recent collection, Who Is Mary Sue? (Faber, 2018), for The Rumpus. For those unfamiliar with the term "Mary Sue," Hall Gailey points us to Collins's own helpful gloss on page 19 of her book:

Coined by Paula Smith in 1973, “Mary Sue” is a pejorative term used by writers and readers of fan fiction to describe protagonists who are believed to be thinly disguised version of the fan fic’s author’s idealised self.

There is no outright consensus as to Mary Sue’s character type. Invariably, however, Mary Sue is female; she is said to be difficult to identify with, poorly constructed, without depth; she is associated with narcissism and/or wish fulfillment.

From there, Hall Gailey writes:

This hybrid book worked more effectively than a tightly wound series of poems might have, because its subjects include the fragmentation of the self as author, the layer of autobiographical narrative in women’s art, and the way the author considers herself as a subject. Who Is Mary Sue?is a hybrid collage book in more ways than one, combining scholarship, poems, quotations, and prose musings in a way that is at once playful and deadly serious, batting around the ideas of female authorhood and critiquing the way the female writers have to at once contain enough autobiography to be considered authentic and worth reading, and to also fend off accusations of “Mary Sue-ism.”

To address the questions of the book, Collins uses such source material as The Story of O, interviews with writers like Lorrie Moore and Sharon Olds, and Joanna Russ’s How to Suppress Women’s Writing. The organization of the book is somewhat challenging, so I’m going to walk you through the sections, which aren’t all that clearly delineated in the book, which I think is purposeful—some sections are surrounded by postscripts and blank pages, others are not; some are clearly titled with section headings, others are not. Seeking to unsettle the reader, Collins is clearly uncomfortable in just one mode, or with just one speaker, or even with organizing things.

Jump over to The Rumpus for the helpful walk-through.

Originally Published: January 14th, 2019