Study Guide

Susan Daitch

Susan Daitch Essay - Critical Essays

Daitch, Susan

Introduction

Susan Daitch 1954–

American novelist and short story writer.

The following entry presents an overview of Daitch's career through 1996.

Until the late 1970s, Susan Daitch worked as a painter producing what she calls "narrative drawings." Her artistic background has come into play in her writing by providing her with a visual basis for her work. The translation from a visual to written format has intrigued Daitch and led her to inspect how meaning changes with translation—a recurring theme in her writing.

Biographical Information

Born in New Haven, Connecticut, Daitch graduated from Barnard College in 1977. She then attended, and later worked for, the Whitney Museum of Modern Art's Independent Study Program. The late '70s marked a turning point in her career as she moved away from art and towards fiction. Her background in art, her work at the Whitney, and her husband's experiences in the Berkeley riots all contributed to her first book, L.C. (1987).

Major Works

Daitch uses history as a springboard for her work because, according to her, it is a "kind of ready-made that can be reinterpreted or misinterpreted, and translated." Her first novel, L.C., is an example of Daitch's re-invention of history: the novel centers on a diary, written by the title character in 1848 France, which is subsequently found, translated and retranslated by two other authors. Dr. Willa Rehnfield first finds and translates the novel in 1968. Rehnfield's translation is affected by her own life and the riots at Berkeley. Likewise, Rehnfield's assistant retranslates the last section of L.C.'s diary to correct Rehnfield's "mistakes," only to add her own biases. Just as L.C. has a book as its central narrative frame, so too does Daitch's second work, The Colorist (1990). The Colorist centers around a comic book entitled Electra. After the comic book folds, Julie, the colorist, and the book's inker, Laura, take it over. Julie's and Electra's lives begin to parallel each other and lead the reader down a path of complex storylines. Kate Lynch calls The Colorist a "literary shell game" with "drop-dead writing." Most recently Daitch has published a collection of short stories entitled Storytown (1996).

Critical Reception

Daitch's works have been variously received as either brilliant or trite. Most critics agree that Daitch has unique descriptive talents and have praised her storytelling abilities; L.C. was recognized as a promising first book from a new postmodern writer. Leslie Rabine calls it "an important first novel … well worth reading for its ingenious interweaving of narrative threads"—a sentiment expressed in the bulk of critical reaction to Daitch's first work. L.C. has, however, been criticized for historical inaccuracies and narrative imbalance. The Colons's reception has followed much the same path. Elizabeth Judd calls it a "breath-taking second novel" and asserts that Daitch has again succeeded in producing a well-told, complex storyline. However, the story's complexity and Daitch's technique of situation-driven writing have resulted in what some critics see as weak characters, though Richard Katrovas says that the narrative imparts "the powerful sense of a woman gazing into the heart of things."

Principal Works

L.C. (novel) 1987
The Colorist (novel) 1990
Storytown (short stories) 1996

Criticism

Laura Marcus (review date 20 June 1986)

SOURCE: "Herself as Others," in Times Literary Supplement, June 20, 1986, p. 682.

[In the following review, Marcus contends that Daitch's first novel, L.C., is a "promising" book with writing that is understated and intelligent.]

It is an unusual pleasure to be able to say of a first novel not just that it is promising but that it delivers the goods. Susan Daitch's L.C. is an important book, in part because it works with materials that are proliferating in feminist publishing—diaries, memoirs, historical reconstructions—and, through complex novelistic strategies and acute historical imaginings, produces a form which encourages us to rethink both fiction and history.

The major part of the novel is taken up with the diary of Lucienne Crazier, a young woman living in Paris immediately before and during the 1848 revolution. The diary, whose entries vary from the elliptical to the highly detailed, records the merging of a private with a public life. Her arranged marriage does not so much disintegrate as slide from view when her husband leaves on a business trip. She begins a series of affairs, the first with the painter [Eugène] Delacroix, the last with the revolutionary Jean de la Tour. Her story is not important merely because she is the mistress of famous men, however, nor is hers a sentimental education. Through Delacroix, she comes to understand and question the romantic and aesthetic idealism which motivated the revolutionary fervour of the previous generation, now transmuted into Delacroix's opaque allegorical representations, With de la Tour she meets [Pierre-Joseph] Proudhon, becomes involved with the revolutionary 14 Juilletists and watches Paris burn. The first part of the novel ends as she prepares for exile in Algiers.

Surrounding this narrative is a double layer of contemporary historical reconstruction. Dr. Willa Rehnfield, an archivist and biographer, finds and translates the diary in 1968. On her death, her assistant Jane Amme discovers it and re-translates the final section, in which...

(The entire section is 865 words.)

Leslie W. Rabine (review date 13 December 1987)

SOURCE: "Feminism in 1848 and 1968," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 13, 1987, p. 10.

[Rabine, in the following review, finds Daitch's novel L.C. worth reading for its interwoven plot, despite its occasional historical inaccuracies.]

Few people have even heard of the feminists active in France in the 1830s and '40s. But contemporary feminists who do know them, like historian Claire Moses (French Feminism in the 19th Century, SUNY Press, 1984) or biographer Dominique Desanti (Flora Tristan: A Woman in Revolt, Crown, 1976) experience an uncanny spark of recognition and identification.

Now novelist Susan Daitch has built...

(The entire section is 839 words.)

Julie Wheelwright (review date March 1988)

SOURCE: Review of L.C. in The Women's Review of Books, Vol. V, No. 6, March 1988, p. 16.

[In the following, Wheelwright discusses the parallels that Daitch has created in her first novel, L.C.]

Popular representations of women's role in both world wars often indulge in romantic images. Khaki greens, tartan kilts, greatcoats, braided suits, ribbons and medals are the most current manifestation of this nostalgia. The height of this winter's European fashions reflect a renewed fascination for things military. "As the world contemplates laying down its arms," as the Irish women's magazine It cheerfully claims, "the fashion world seems to celebrate this notion...

(The entire section is 963 words.)

Steven Moore (review date Fall 1988)

SOURCE: Review of L.C., in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 8, No. 3, Fall 1988, p. 166-67.

[In the following, Moore looks at the manipulation of text and claims that Daitch "brilliantly" connects the women of 1848 and 1968 in her novel L.C.]

This intriguing and very accomplished first novel [L.C.] is concerned with the efforts of three women to redress personal and political inequality through the manipulation of texts. The novel begins with an editor's introduction to her own translation of a journal kept by one Lucienne Crozier, a proto-feminist witness to the February 1848 Revolution in Paris. All seems well at first, but irregularities begin...

(The entire section is 360 words.)

Michiko Kakutani (review date 16 February 1990)

SOURCE: "The Lives of New Yorkers, Uptown and Down," in The New York Times, February 16, 1990, p. C33.

[In the following review of The Colorist and a work by another author, Kakutani provides a synopsis of Daitch's The Colorist stating that the "narrative tends to be … unstructured" but praises Daitch's ability to capture the flavor of Manhattan.]

The New Yorkers in these two new novels are young, hip, disoriented and self-involved. The ones in The Colorist, live on the Lower East Side in grungy studios and lofts, wear colored streaks in their hair and wonder how they'll pay the rent. The ones in Leap Year live in appliance-laden...

(The entire section is 514 words.)

Elizabeth Judd (review date April 1990)

SOURCE: Review of The Colorist, in Village Voice Literary Supplement, No. 84, April, 1990, pp. 9-10.

[The following is a positive review of Susan Daitch's The Colorist.]

The Colorist, Susan Daitch's breathtaking second novel, is more than just another postmodern story about a wannabe artist zigzagging through downtown New York (although at one point the narrator does wangle her way onto her lover's lease). Reading it is like unwrapping a stack of presents from someone witty and wise who knew just what you wanted.

The setting and tone of The Colorist distinguish it from Daitch's first book, L.C., the diary account of a...

(The entire section is 981 words.)

Kate Lynch (review date 13 May 1990)

SOURCE: A review of The Colorist, in New York Times Book Review, May 13, 1990, p. 24.

[In the following review, Lynch commends Daitch on her storytelling and the complex story lines of The Colorist.]

The timing of Susan Daitch's second novel couldn't be better. Now that we're in the midst of a renaissance of interest in cartoons and comics, here's a story set in the comic book industry, complete with workaday details. But The Colorist has little in common with the breathless cliffhangers that mention of the genre may conjure; there is some borrowing from the "graphic novel" and a lot of reflection of fantasy literature, but Ms. Daitch aims more to...

(The entire section is 337 words.)

Leslie Camhi (essay date Summer 1993)

SOURCE: "Uncertain Physiognomies: Susan Daitch's L.C.," in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. XIII, No. 2, Summer 1993, pp. 97-100.

[In the following essay, Camhi examines the questions that arise when a text is translated and re-translated in Susan Daitch's L.C.]

Political progress for women is frequently tied to the disintegration of an existing social order. The chance to grab at a bouquet half-tossed and half-forced from the hands of power is a dubious opportunity at best; but in the realm of hope, the dispossessed will often take what they can get. Political revolutions rarely strike at the heart of tyrannies of gender, and their momentary disordering of...

(The entire section is 1727 words.)

Richard Katrovas (essay date Summer 1993)

SOURCE: "Into the Heart of Things: Passion and Perception in Susan Daitch's The Colorist," in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 13, No. 2, Summer 1993, pp. 121-26.

[The following essay examines how the female narrator of Daitch's The Colorist functions in a male-centered world.]

With L.C., Susan Daitch established herself among the more gifted novelists of her generation, and in The Colorist—actually an elaboration of a novella that preceded L.C.—she again marshaled impressive erudition to the service of a considerable writerly talent. The speaker of this clipped, hip, urban narrative ruminates at the nexus of passion and...

(The entire section is 2496 words.)

Larry McCaffery (interview date Summer 1993)

SOURCE: "An Interview with Susan Daitch," in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. XIII, No. 2, Summer 1993, pp. 62-82.

[In the following interview, Daitch discusses the structure and creation of her novels. She discusses her interest in meaning as dependent on context and her interest in "thought language" versus "spoken language."]

[Larry McCaffery:] What sort of writing have you been doing recently? In an interview a while back you mentioned you were working on a series of interrelated novellas

[Susan Daitch:] I've put those aside and have been working on a novel about Georges Méliès, the early filmmaker, and the [Alfred] Dreyfus trial....

(The entire section is 7419 words.)

Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 February 1996)

SOURCE: A review of Storytown, in Kirkus Reviews, Vol. 64, February 15, 1996, pp. 242-43.

[The following review calls Daitch's first collection of short stories, Storytown, "fundamentally lifeless" with two notable exceptions.]

[Storytown, a] first collection, from the author of L.C. (1987) and The Colorist (1989), brings together 15 fictions, some of which have appeared in the edgier small-press mags, which is not surprising given the postmodern play of ideas that defines most of Daitch's work.

Many of the meta-level narratives here, full of references to pop culture and cinema, are fundamentally lifeless, more...

(The entire section is 339 words.)

Rosellen Brown (essay date July 1996)

SOURCE: "Bleak Encounters," in The Women's Review of Books, Vol. XIII, Nos. 10-11, July 1996, pp. 32-33.

[In the following review of Storytown, Brown finds the collection stimulating and describes Daitch's stories as "effectively unnerving."]

It's no news that many moods and mysterious landscapes are hard to evoke through the rational progression of foursquare realistic narrative. Susan Daitch, author of the novels The Colorist and L.C., presents an unsettling view of the world by less orderly means in her first collection of short pieces. Storytown contains a script for a video and a text for the catalogue of an art show as well as stories...

(The entire section is 841 words.)