Rosalyn Drexler Essay - Critical Essays

Drexler, Rosalyn (Vol. 2)

Drexler, Rosalyn

An American comic novelist and playwright, Ms. Drexler wrote the Obie-winning play, "Home Movies," and the novel I Am the Beautiful Stranger. She has been, among other things, a professional wrestler and a painter.

There is nothing mealy-mouthed about Rosalyn Drexler's writing. I am the Beautiful Stranger is the diary-novel of Selma, a teenage girl growing up in the Bronx of the 30s. Although inconsiderable, it is a charming and unhackneyed evocation of the pleasures and pains of adolescence, written with an astringency too rare in modern American fiction. Selma sees the adult world in a series of tortured perspectives, through a prism in which naïvete and knowingness, romance and realism are ineluctably blended. She starts experimenting with sex early, but in spite of its depraved nature—unorthodox activities with older men who pay for the privilege—it is all casual, innocent and unimportant to her. Her burgeoning artistic interests and her relationships with her family and friends have much more significance.

Piers Brendon, "First Novels," in Books and Bookmen, June, 1967, pp. 48-9.

Few contemporary playwrights can equal [Rosalyn Drexler's] verbal playfulness, fearless spontaneity, and boundless irreverence; few in fact, share her devotion to pure writing, preferring their language functional, meaningful, or psychologically "real." Whether her plays amount to anything, whatever that means, is hard to say: hers is obviously an up-to-date sensibility, and I read considerable off-hand, tough, supercool wisdom about human relationships into her fantastications, knowing all the time that they may be as frivolous as they look. Who cares? If I can read it in, it's there or might as well be. Anyway, I'm not burdening these plays with philosophy or even thought, only with a face-value honesty that I find refreshing.

Michael Smith, "Theatre Journal," in The Village Voice (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice; © 1968 by The Village Voice, Inc.), March 28, 1968.

["The Line of Least Existence"], like all of Mrs. Drexler's work, is about the total dissonance that occurs whenever living creatures find themselves in any sort of relationship. In this play that includes Pschug, a big bottle-shaped bohunk who is searching for his daughter Ibolya. The speech that opens the play is a brilliant piece of work which immediately establishes Pschug as the total alien, the complete outsider, the perpetual immigrant who will always wear the red bandanna of Ellis Island.

Jack Kroll, "Looking for Ibolya," in Newsweek (copyright Newsweek, Inc. 1968; reprinted by permission), April 1, 1968.

Rosalyn Drexler may very well be the first Marx Sister. Her new novel, "One or Another," has no more plot than "Horse Feathers" (far less, in fact), but she has filled it up with so many sight, sound and word gags, so many sillinesses and surrealities—not to mention little grinning obscenities—that the reader soon begins to flinch in anticipation of the next verbal skit and to bark with relieved laughter when it works….

It is by no means unpleasant, the shower of absurdities. It is like being pelted with toy balloons and an occasional mud-pie. Mrs. Drexler has a determined inventiveness and complete control of her language, and it becomes clear very early that she is not going to repeat herself or slip into predictable patterns. The only trouble is that her material evaporates as quickly as it spills out. One is left at the end with the feeling that one has just consumed a meal of odorless gas or listened to a disembodied giggle in the dark.

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, "Vanishing Creams," in The New York Times (© 1970 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 5, 1970.

"One or Another" is a very funny book; moreover, it is both funny "ha-ha" and funny "weird," an observation Melissa Johnson, the novel's heroine-narrator, would be likely to make herself. In "One or Another" reality and unreality are merged; the borderline between dreams and actual events has been erased; shadows are indistinguishable from substance. Obviously, a novel of the interior is not concerned with plot. Mere sequences of events hold no interest. Style alone sustains "One or Another." With careful economy and wit … Miss Drexler guides the reader through the tortured dreamscape in which Melissa Johnson finds both refuge and exile….

In many ways "One or Another" is a proper sequel to Miss Drexler's first novel, "I Am the Beautiful Stranger," published in 1965. Selma Silver, the precocious teen-age diarist and beautiful stranger, is a younger version of Melissa; attracted to fantasy, sexually adventurous, fond of puns and imaginary three-line playlets, the two characters are stylistic partners. Both books share an essential timelessness. Although "I Am the Beautiful Stranger" is set in the late thirties … and "One or Another" in the late sixties …, they are synchronistic: all events are happening right now, inside of Melissa's and Selma's imaginations…. Geography, too, has little relevance in Rosalyn Drexler's work. Both books are set in New York City, yet Melissa's dream-journeys to Biafra and to Yellowstone Park in winter are just as "real" as her trips to the beauty parlor in the Great Northern Hotel. The important landmarks are all imaginary; confronted by the complexities and abnormalities of life in America, Melissa and Selma take refuge in the bomb-shelters of their secret minds.

Ever since Molly Bloom's memories of Gibraltar, lesser artists than Joyce have attempted to shoot the rapids in the stream of consciousness and promptly capsized. If talk of dream-journeys and interior landscapes brings to mind the blurry poetics of Anaïs Nin and Djuna Barnes, let me absolve Rosalyn Drexler from any associative guilt. Kafka is a much more accurate reference-point: the spare, clean style, the bizarre juxtaposing of abnormalities, the hard edges and latent guilt…. But here it is Kafka as interpreted by the Marx Brothers, with all the pratfalls and raised eyebrows intact. "One or Another" is as immediate as a pie in the face.

William Hjortsberg, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1970 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 28, 1970, p. 5.

[One or Another] entertains in the same way as do Miss Drexler's plays: chic, spiny attitudes that can't be touched, a porcupine's defense, since even the author won't embrace them though she will espouse them. She satirizes a black high school militant (at her best at this), science, pornographic films, modish causes in a hide-and-seek fashion, since she's there amid them. For Miss Drexler it is not the banality of evil any longer, but the banality of madness.

William O'Rourke, in Nation, August 31, 1970, p. 157.

It would be misleading and even silly to compare her with other novelists, for I don't know of anyone quite like Rosalyn Drexler who is writing today: She's an absolute original who can take all of the ingredients that usually characterize "serious" fiction about her concerns here—identity as a woman, emptiness, the insanity of daily life in America, hypocrisy, the absence of love—and use them with inventiveness, playfulness, and even hilarity. Wonderfully, it works, and the result is admirable not only for its style and wit, but for its lack of pretense, for the respect it grants its reader in not straining beyond its materials, and for what it achieves: art which is also high entertainment.

Sara Blackburn, "The World of Lady Wrestlers," in Book World (© The Washington Post), March 19, 1972, p. 5.