The essential question in Kristina Marie Darling’s hybrid text Women and Ghosts is posed early on: “If a man turns his head in such a way, who or what is shattered?” As the book’s speaker addresses this quandary, we witness a subtle subversion of the patriarchy, and an upheaval of the male-dominated literary canon. I see the push and pull of a woman who “drowns under the weight of her own dress,” her femininity; her very existence. At the same time, she is reaching towards autonomy; an identity completely separate from the men who stifle her. The men portrayed here are violent and manipulative. The offer no trace of love. She is mired in a rape culture; she is being pitted against a society which does not value the female voice. She asks, “Why is there so much language, so many words I didn’t want.” She doubts the efficiency of language, but barrels ahead; embraces bravery, and speaks out regardless.
She participates in a conversation spanning centuries with both real and imaginary women: the women reading this text, and the women in Shakespeare’s plays: Ophelia, Juliet etc. Especially pleasing for me is the fact that previous exposure to these texts enhances my experience, but the book is so delicately rendered as to be accessible to even those who have not read the plays.
Darling’s chosen forms—a hybrid of poetry, essay, erasure, footnotes etc.—have been used quite successfully in other books authored by Darling, but this overt commentary on gender politics is new to me. Issues of gender and the complicated relationships between men and women have been the focus of many previous works, but the political and explicitly rhetorical strategies present here are a refreshing change. I see Darling’s books as a continuous narrative, pearls on a string. Women and Ghosts is a welcomed addition.