Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Anne Carson Might Be Too Smart for Me

Book reviewed: The Beauty of the Husband, by Anne Carson

According to its cover, Anne Carson's The Beauty of the Husband is "a fictional essay in 29 tangos." A series of poems about the marriage and divorce between the female speaker and her adulterous husband, the book is as complicated as any of Carson's other works. Using Keat's philosophy of "beauty as truth," Carson creates a picture of a failed relationship with snapshots ("tangos") of moments and emotion. The whole thing is kind of like a puzzle largely open to interpretation, playing with emotions but forcing the reader to come to her own moral judgments. Luckily, I've read a lot of Anne Carson before I read this book. Otherwise, I might have been pretty lost.

As you might remember from past Carson reviews I've posted here, I'm a huge fan of the way she uses verse to blend literary tradition into the contemporary world. Her book Autobiography of Red is a modern retelling of a Greek myth, and it works wonderfully. Unfortunately, I found that The Beauty of the Husband lacked the pathos and attention to image that defined Red. Instead, we get a lot of language and memory and leftover feelings. The rawness of love and betrayal were missing for me.

I liked the book well enough. Occasionally, a moment or line really wowed me, particularly in the moments shared between the speaker and her unfaithful ex's best friend, Ray. I felt like Carson had all the tools and did exactly what she set out to do. But for me, the emotional satisfaction I hope to find in good poetry just wasn't totally there. And because Carson has the tendency to be a tad too intellectual at times, the language wasn't graceful or arresting enough to make up for that.

Anyway, it's a decent book of poetry that I definitely didn't regret reading. I just plain didn't like it as much as some of Carson's other work. I like what she does. But sometimes, I think she might be a little too smart for me.


  1. I should add that I don't have a problem with the fact that Anne Carson is ridiculously smart. It's one of the biggest reasons I admire her so much. But I think she has a tendency to get so caught up in her own mental skills that she lets some of the more visceral aspects of poetry get lost in the mix. I still think she's one of the best poets writing today, though.

  2. Almost like she's forgetting who will be reading her book, or limiting the people able to read it just by the words she uses.