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Claire Donato
Kind Mirrors, Ugly Ghosts
In the disquieting stories of Kind Mirrors, Ugly Ghosts, a fractaled Claire Donato contemplates grief and disgust in heterosexuality, deconstructing the romance myth and the illicit fantasies which reflect our haunted selves. These fictions are populated with Lynchian characters, draped in memory and the subconscious mind, who imagine their way out of the painful limits of their world: a turtle retreats into its shell and becomes a real girl. A porn addict turns into a baby boy in the arms of his barren cyber-girlfriend. And a digitally-marred depressive joins forces with the ghost of Simone Weil to kill a chicken. Donato’s fictions are precise and cutting, seamlessly integrating a vast knowledge of art through sharp criticism and a history of cult traditions: Donnie Darko, Wings of Desire, Daisies, and Twin Peaks and artists including Clarice Lispector, M.F.K. Fisher, Sibylle Baier, and The Velvet Underground. Kind Mirrors, Ugly Ghosts concludes with "Gravity and Grace, the Chicken and the Egg, or: How to Cook Everything Vegetarian", a novella-in-vignettes that frames cooking as an entrypoint to light, awareness, and connection. With associative lyricism and a preternatural ability to gaze into the void with tenderness, Donato relays an indescribably strange perception of our world, in which maniacal grief turns to a gleeful protest before becoming, against all odds, a love letter to what remains.
Poet and novelist Donato (The Second Body) touches on food, sex, and religion in this incisive collection. Highlights include “My Albatross,” which depicts a toxic relationship with brittle humor and brutal honesty; “11:11,” a brief, pungent critique of Catholicism; the haunting and elliptical “Captive Father”; “Spores,” which begins at an acupuncturist appointment and ends at a church; and “Bone Piece,” a short, provocative essay about language. Some entries are illustrated, such as “David,” about a hookup in California, which includes a luscious photo of an ice cream cone, a dark photo of a cat, and an abstract drawing of stars and other symbols. The collection concludes with a rollicking and imaginative novella, “Gravity and Grace, the Chicken and the Egg, or: How to Cook Everything Vegetarian,” which is composed of homages to the narrator’s favorite dishes, such as tofu with mango sauce (recipes are included). Donato’s economy of style, range of interests, and grasp of language impress. Admirers of the avant-garde will enjoy thumbing through this diverting collection. (Nov.)