Morganstein, Linda. “Numinosity: A Fractured Memoir”, Linda Morganstein, 2017.
Family History as Fiction
As a reviewer I am often asked who my favorite writers are and because I actually know many of the people whose works I review, I always claim that I have no favorites. Rather, I have writers that I always look forward to hearing from especially when they tell me that have a new book and would like me to review it. One of those writers is Linda Morganstein, a writer who never ceases to surprise me. Last week I got an email from Morganstein telling me that she had a new book out and she said a few a words about it and then let a UTube video say the most. She did not ask me if I would review it; she simply announced that she had a new book. She may have assumed that I would ask her to send me a copy and I loved that there was no pressure put on me. Of course I wanted to review it and answered her immediately with a request for a copy. It arrived yesterday and I have been with the book ever since. (Linda, you never have to ask—just send the books). As both a fiction and mystery writer, Morganstein has drawn fascinating and real characters. In one of my reviews of another of her books, I wrote “that [her characters] are well defined and real. When I say real I mean that we can see ourselves in them.” In her new book, “Numinosity”, her characters are drawn from her family and herself and that is about as real as one can get. This is Morganstein’s family history as a fictionalized memoir and the entire book is very clever. Morganstein has thrown traditional formatting out of the window and gives us a book modeled on the old “Life” magazine. Size wise it is about half the size of a coffee table book but certainly not the size of books that we are used to reading. It is filled with photographs and blurbs and I soon found myself tearing up about some of the memories it raises.
The content comes from Morganstein’s “eccentric family history” but written as a fictionalized memoir. Divided into six chapters, we have articles written by invented personalities (all of whom are the author herself). Like a magazine, there are ads on many pages but what is advertised are products of the author’s mind (and great fun). Morganstein parodies consumerism with ads for “NYX Ballbuster” cigarettes and “Nadir” televisions. There is something special on every page making this one of the “funnest” books I have ever read or even held in my hands.
It does not tale long to realize that this is a book about “the relationship of humor and tragedy in art” and that if we are going to leave the past behind us we must take a look at what was and fashion it into its own story which will be a tragicomedy. By consciously laughing and crying about the past, we liberate ourselves from it.
I was reminded when I was a young religious school student at my synagogue in New Orleans and we began to read the Hebrew bible. One of the major Jewish publishing houses put out a comic book edition of the Five Books of Moses and we were all given a copy. The rabbi knew that the best way to get his students to understand was to make the read fun for them and this was the age of Archie and Veronica who we soon saw as Samson and Delilah. This is how we learned— reading a comic book about the patriarchs (for us there were not yet matriarchs back then) and I grew to love the Bible stories in the comic book that I kept next to my bed. In effect, that is what Linda Morganstein has done here. She gives us an illustrated biography that is fun to read and like those Bible stories, I am not likely to forget it. She has torn down the barriers between genres, stood literature on its head and shows us how to have fun as we read. Here is “visual/verbal” art that has a message of seriousness. I now will replace my own Bible comic book with “Numinosity” on the bed table next to where I sleep and I am pretty sure that I will read it as many times as I read about Moses parting the sea.