American Romances


American Romances | Essays by Rebecca Brown

Publisher:  City Lights

This collection of mordant, poignant and playful essays shows Rebecca Brown at the height of her imaginative and intuitive powers. A wry and incisive social and literary critique is couched in a gonzo mix of pop culture, autobiography, fiction, literary history, misremembered movie plots and fantasy that plays with the notion of what it is to be “American.”

The impulse to tell our worst to a bunch of strangers in order to be accepted into the community has been fueling American self-hood for 300 years: There’s a direct line from the Puritan confession narrative to all of our seamy, lurid cultural voyeurism. Whose stories are ours to tell and whose are not? Despite the collection’s mostly playful and entertaining tone, what’s being discussed quite seriously are the ways in which America has tried and failed to craft and tell its own story.

Fully embracing the theory of the literary Romance as a place where the probable opens up into the impossible, Brown lets her imagination run wild and envisions unlikely meetings and fantastical connections that span the course of America’s cultural history: the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson and Nathaniel Hawthorne intersect as representatives of west coast hedonism and east coast Puritanism; Gertrude Stein presides over a same-sex religious movement; John Wayne and Shane stand in for the author’s father who may or may not have been JFK’s wing man during the Cuban Missile Crisis; a mad Finnish-American painter turns Seattle’s Hooverville into heaven; H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man reveals his/her secret sex life.

Praise for American Romances:

“Everything and nothing is sacred in Rebecca Brown’s essays. Tongue, word, thought, and intellect all conspire in a free language love of living history, divination, sex, solitude and amusement. She is America’s only real rock n’ roll schoolteacher. Lessons layered with profundity and protracted parallels. Where old world religion, Gertrude Stein and Oreo cookies co-exist in an actual and mystic world of wonder.”
–Thurston Moore, Sonic Youth

“If Rebecca Brown’s talent for prose were any tighter, it would be a lyric – to a pop standard. An homage – a menage – to America, exposing what’s laid bare in a comic tragic redux. I laughed till it hurt.”
–Van Dyke Parks, composer/arranger

“Anyone who can get from the Eucharist, to a Necco Wafer, to the goo between the wafers, to the Inquisition to the goo between the legs of excited young women is a distant sibling of mine. She can dash and she can drift and she is not much interested in the really bad parts that might qualify as confession. She likes the float of quotidian living and I like to read the words upon which she floats.”
–Dave Hickey, author of Air Guitar

An excerpt from Rebecca Brown’s American Romances (PDF)

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