Sandra Hochman Hochman, Sandra (Vol. 8) - Essay

Hochman, Sandra (Vol. 8)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Hochman, Sandra 1936–

Hochman, an American confessional poet, has recently been writing novels that chronicle the growth of consciousness of the female protagonist. Her first novel, Walking Papers, was quickly embraced by the feminist movement. (See also CLC, Vol. 3, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

The tone [of Walking Papers], set by the tension between the crazy fragments [the central character] Diana collects from life and the unifying, sane love she hopes for, would be ironic were it not hysterical. The mode is vaudeville, Diana is a stand-up comedian, and the problem is age-old: when Alan King tells the one about his wife, we know he doesn't really mean it. When Diana tells her marriage joke, it removes her finally from the events: she is so much caricature, so much super-hyped female Portnoy, that we never believe she lives. If Hochman told us, for instance, why and how Diana, at some point vulnerable, fell in love with her husbands, the book might have a chance; as it is, we are so smothered with volleys of lefts and rights that we can't see who's punching, much less care whether the problem is men or women or their combinations. (pp. 283-84)

The Antioch Review (copyright © 1971 by The Antioch Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission of the editors), Vol. XXXI, No. 1, 1971.

[Wanting] to be a poet, and writing poetry are two utterly different things. One feels Miss Hochman has made her career out of the wanting alone….

Miss Hochman's poems [in "Earthworks"] have been written by a sort of tourist in life, whose travels began at boarding school and continued through, say Bennington College; they resemble nothing so much as a collection of postcards, their thought and observation no more profound or exciting or comprehensive than the messages sent home by an unhappy traveler who has moments of pleasant personal insight that occur in bazaars or temples or hotel bathrooms or beds.

Like postcards, these poems are self-centered, focused on a lonely, wistful existence and spoken by a very "bright" daughter, whose emotional tone is flaccid, discouraged and awkward even when she speaks of her joys. (p. 6)

Jascha Kessler, in The Los Angeles Times (copyright, 1971, Los Angeles Times; reprinted by permission), January 1, 1971.

From beginning to end [in Futures], it's clear in every poem that the Hochman Circus is back in town with all those tragical-comical acts we remember from Walking Papers and from the earlier collections: the violinist-husband, the mad lover, the ineffectual father, the nurse, the uncles, and of course the ringmistress—sensitive, tumultuous, "barefoot tough-girl Sandy" herself. Only now the costumes are a bit frayed, and the glittery sets have been set up too often before. In many of the poems the artful, self-celebrating delight of, say, Love-Letters From Asia, seems to have given way to a sort of gossipy logorrhea, as if the poet-ring mistress had merely become a voice at the other end of a telephone, endlessly rehearsing the old woes, the new woes, the old woes. In particular, Children's Court and Secrets of Wonder Women have this nudgily solipsistic quality. The first [is] soggy with serio-comic memories…. The second, a piece about dieting that might make it as a confessional number in Vogue or Glamour…. (pp. 48-9)

Well, to the extent that she permits herself to publish stuff like this, it's obvious that success has spoiled Sandra Hochman. Poetry really isn't a stand-up comedy routine, a gossipy confession, a worn-out circus act, or even a documentary about women of the year, although those are all illuminating analogs sometimes. But then no one knows this better than Hochman at her best…. I suppose from such poets we can't—or shouldn't—expect eternal prudence. It's perhaps our problem if we have to sit through a lot of distracting and tedious reminiscence to get to the real point…. And at least the title of the book, Futures, suggests a semiconscious longing to exorcise the old bogeys once and for all, and get on with the business of inventing new dreams. (p. 49)

Sandra M. Gilbert, in Poetry (© 1975 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), October, 1975.

Sandra Hochman's second novel ["Happiness is Too Much Trouble"] is the latest installment in the continuing saga of the liberated New York divorcée. As followers of the genre already know, the heroine, after a privileged childhood and great success at high school (private, progressive) and college (same), moves on to analysis, the arts and a series of disastrous relationships with men. At least one lover is a certifiable lunatic, another is an incorrigible woman-hater, and another is simply impossible. None of them pays her enough attention, even though, she is quick to tell us, she is sensational in bed and has a terrific sense of humor. Questions the reader is not supposed to ask: would any amount of attention satisfy this person? Are her men really so dreadful, or is she maybe not telling the whole story? Would the reader like to have her over for dinner?

Hochman's first novel, "Walking Papers," was one of the best of these books, because it was an exploration of its heroine's obsessions and not just an apologia for them. Diana Balooka's need to be loved was so overwhelming that she put up with real misery for the sake of the constant romantic turmoil she required. Lulu Cartwright, the much less endearing heroine of "Happiness Is Too Much Trouble," rejects Diana's bargain. Love, she decides, just isn't worth it, and she goes after power as representing both good feminism and a safer bet….

Lulu has all the faults she criticizes in men: she is boorish, insensitive, self-absorbed and fond of impersonal sex. Although she claims to have tried love and found it wanting, her choice of men precludes all but the shallowest sort of involvement…. Next to them, she can't help but look good, which may be what attracts her to them.

Lulu's story is a fantasy, of course, and in lighter, defter hands could have been a funny and illuminating one, a "Putney Swope" of the sexes. But as her leaden, joyless prose makes clear, Hochman is in dead earnest. She really believes that Lulu is the blameless victim of men she sincerely loved, and that she is right to covet prestige, a huge salary and the ability to boss others around. The line between Hochman's feminism and plain old materialism is extremely thin. It's all very well to say that power is necessary for "self-realization," but what kind of power? What kind of self? Interestingly, Hochman never wonders why, if power is so beneficial, the male executives Lulu confronts are so grotesque. I suspect it's no accident. (p. 5)

Katha Pollitt, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1976 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), March 7, 1976.