(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Ai focuses on a world of brutality and violence, and her style and language make this world real. Each poem creates a believable individual, while at the same time commenting on those forces in society that have produced the effects described: rape, racial and sex discrimination, poverty, child abuse, and other social evils. The vast gap between exploiters and those whom they violate is demonstrated graphically in this book. The multiple voices of the victims cry in chorus that American values are hollow and that American institutions serve only those who know how to manipulate them. The images that America has created of and for itself have no relation to the reality of life on its streets.

The series of monologues recalls various models, including those of Robert Browning and Edgar Lee Masters. Like Browning, Ai uses the voices of representative speakers to expose the evils of an age. Her work too flashes with irony, and she, like Browning, plays with the resources of language to underscore her message. Like many of the poems of Masters’ Spoon River Anthology (1915), many of Ai’s portraits serve as epitaphs for lives that were finished but incomplete. In Fate, however, the speakers themselves are finally incomparable with those of the models; they are Ai’s own creation, part of her own project of revising recent American history to focus on the silenced and the marginalized.

The poems are first-person, free-verse narratives, retelling history from the points of view of those who made it. Mary Jo Kopechne is the...

(The entire section is 639 words.)