Caroline Hagood’s Weird Girls blends so much into such a short space of text. The book, or book-length essay, is made up of 90 micro chapters which effortlessly move from literature and mythology to cultural criticism to pop culture to memoir to feminist manifesto. I immediately began recommending this book to my female friends who are writers and artists, particularly those that have children. Hagood is turning things upside down here and rescripting the age-old, cliched narrative of the madwoman in the attic. She’s drawing on her life, her childhood reading and watching, her creative writing, and her literary, cultural criticism backgrounds to create a fluid hybrid form to inspire female creators out of the labyrinths of artistic self-doubt, in order to embrace the art monster inside them. It’s a cool and fearless journey, one which had me writing down titles for future bookstore visits and thinking about new blended ways to approach creative nonfiction writing and cultural criticism.
The first chapter alone references the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz, the fates of Greek mythology, the witches of Macbeth, and Helene Cixous (along with a subtle nod to Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes). Cixous’s quote in the first chapter sheds light on Hagood’s endeavors: “Who, surprised and horrified by the fantastic tumult of her drives…hasn’t accused herself of being a monster? Who, feeling a funny desire stirring inside her (to sing, to write, to dare to speak, in short, to bring out something new), hasn’t thought she was sick?” Hagood dives into the belly of the beast here and sheds light on the existential questions of being an artist and a mother, a caretaker and an art monster.
And this is the path Hagood leads us, why we revere the secluded male wizard, while wanting to burn his counterpart the female witch for her selfish indiscretions and incantations? Why do we put the solitary, selfish, cloistered male artist on a pedestal, while castigating the female artist for solipsism and neglect? Hagood sets out to consider these questions through a wide range of texts and stories. At one point, Hagood uses Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves to consider haunted house angles, homes that appear to grow deeper and darker on the inside the further you go into them. This is a wonderful metaphoric angle into the labyrinth of this book. It’s all about growing deeper on the inside and approaching the home at an unusual, darker angle. What we find in Weird Girls is part confession, part call to keep going in pursuit of creation, part cautionary tale as you enter Frankenstein’s laboratory.
Weird Girls grapples directly with Jenny Offill’s brilliant evocation of the art monster in her 2014 novel, Dept of Speculation. Chapter 14 of Weird Girls begins with these sentences: “As Offill frames it, 1) if women try to snatch their own time and space to make their art they are treated as monsters; 2) it’s hard to take this time because of the “mundane,” as she calls them, “duties” of domestic life that threaten to eat these women whole; 3) but since they must take this time to make their art, and since this means they will be treated as monsters, why not embrace it? Why not find creative possibility in that role of art monster?” Why not indeed. That’s the message I was left with after finishing the book.
I loved Hagood’s evocation of her children throughout the book, particularly as she plays a monster for her kids and explains herself as a “Mommy Monster.” She loves playing this role. Her love for being an artist and intellectual is just as clear. Weird Girls brings together Hagood’s composite, and sometimes competing loves, into a dialogue. The book defies genre—it’s a playful, yet serious manifesto, which allows Hagood’s life and art into a conversation with classic Greek mythology (Ariadne, Circe, Theseus) and literature (Frankenstein, Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz, A Room of One’s Own), as well as with a diverse cast of thinkers and artists, such as Lady Gaga, Leslie Jamison, Maggie Nelson, Kate Zambreno, Claudia Rankine, Bhanu Kapil, Chris Kraus, Carmen Maria Machado, Julia Kristeva, Susan Griffin, Hannah Gadsby, Wanda Sykes, and Curtis Sittenfeld. It’s funny, poignant, irreverent, inspirational, and magical, at times.
One paragraph from Chapter 21 speaks to the heart of Weird Girls for me:
I mean that I don’t find being a mother and being an art monster to be mutually exclusive, but I absolutely find it to be practically a fight to the death to ensure that the duties and expectations of “mother” and “woman” don’t suck up the artist in me—or at least all the time I must make my art. I think if you fight tooth and nail for your art, being a mother can feed it.
It’s a fitting window into the world Hagood has conjured in this book, for it revels in what Kristeva describes as that which “disturbs identity, system, order: What does not respect borders, positions, rules. The in-between, the ambiguous, the composite.” Weird Girls will redraw the boundaries for many female artists and provide inspiration for many to find their inner art monsters. The book also calls its readers to embrace new genres and forms, bringing lived lives into conversations with key books, movies, and ideas, in order to make new, beautiful composite monsters come to life.
Weird Girls: Writing the Art Monster
by Caroline Hagood
Spuyten Duyvil; 160 p.