Her name is Dra—. That’s D, R, A, dash. Like her name, the heroine of Stacey Levine’s first novel is shadowy, incomplete. This story about a woman whose identity is so imperiled that she can make almost no moves toward adult life is both haunting and laugh-out-loud funny.
The novel turns that most banal of activities, the search for a job, into a nightmarish pilgrimage of regression and lost selfhood . . . In polite, literate prose that evokes Kafka, Levine characterizes the quest for employment as a virtually hopeless bid for access to some kind of normalcy. The demands of the adult world seem arbitrary if not malevolent, and Dra— is repeatedly derailed in her job search by her longings to succumb to passivity and infantilism. A visit to an employment agency provokes in her an overpowering—and hilarious—craving to go to the doctor, to lie down and be examined for an internal disorder, or even more attractive, to be in the presence of the doctor’s bewitchingly understanding Nurse.
Dra—’s dreams of being cared for like a child are regularly denounced by other characters, who seem to have xray vision into each others’ psyches. At one point, an employment manager says to Dra—: “You’re afraid of others’ feelings, aren’t you? You’d do anything to avoid anger, even stop defecating, wouldn’t you?”
As this suggests, the novel takes place at the site of the earliest human issues. Levine even uses overtly Freudian underpinnings, at one point having Dra— nestle jealously between a man and a woman who are trying to have sex . . . [But] Dra—’s sexuality is located at such a submerged area of childish fantasy that it could scarcely be termed a “drive.” Levine evokes the early stages of longing with beautiful, arresting prose:

Once, Nanny had carried Dra—’s heavy books through the hallway with one bluish, straining arm... Nanny had lifted the books easily and with great calm, a gesture that had caused Dra— to flood inside with an unendurable sweetness so close to illness that she in fact sat sickened all that day, bent, limbs apart, daydreaming fitfully of Nanny’s high, stark forehead and thinly vibrating voice.

Adult sexuality is a faraway land from the psychic territory of this novel, which seems to be a preOedipal swamp of fear and dread. In the modernist tradition yet in a voice that’s entirely her own, Levine puts the emotional violence of human relations under a highpower microscope, producing a memorably funny narrative that is hauntingly unusual.

—Kristy Eldredge, Third Coast

Dra—
by Stacey Levine

152 pages, trade paper
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