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Drinking With Dead Women Writers

Book Review


In Chapter 12 of Drinking With Dead Women Writers, long-dead author Virginia Woolf says that she doesn't know why people are so up in arms over self-publishing; it's been around forever.

Though it's a savvy observation, it's also slightly ironic, seeing as the book in which it is contained is exactly the type that makes people dubious of self-publishing. Penned by Boise writers Elaine Ambrose and A.K. Turner, this collection of short faux-interviews with a rogue's gallery of late literary ladies arguably falls short of the bar that traditional publishing sets.

For starters, the book clocks in at 100 pages--eight of them are blank spacers, nine are dedicated to title pages and contents, and 16 of them bibliographies of the ladies interviewed. The 60-odd pages of actual prose left are more of a leaflet than a book--though faux-Woolf would probably dispute that, as well.

But the real struggle in Drinking With Dead Women Writers is the premise.

The introduction says that Ambrose and Turner hatched the idea over drinks, but the text itself lacks any sort of driving reasons that the authors are being interviewed or answering questions from the grave. There is no George Carlin appearing in a time-traveling-phone-booth-to-aid-Turner-and-Ambrose-in-a-history-assignment moment to make it all make sense.

As a result, rather than building steam over the course of the book--or showing Ambrose and Turner's personal evolution from performing the interviews with their deceased heroes--the pieces are disconnected from one another as literature and too brief to offer much about the authors interviewed.

A few interesting factoids are thrown in, such as Erma Bombeck's epitaph or Carson McCullers' brushes with suicide, but readers genuinely interested in the authors would do better with a biography, and those not familiar with the writers' works might struggle to find a reason to care.

The most-interesting chapter by far was a meeting with legendary sass-mouth Dorothy Parker, which focused less on the question-and-answer format and offered a more abstract character study.

Ambrose and Turner are both important members of Boise's burgeoning literary scene. Turner hosts The Writer's Block, an in-depth author interview program on Radio Boise, and Ambrose runs Mill Park Publishing, which, in addition to publishing her work, offers a series of classes and retreats for aspiring writers. While they deserve props for their local lit contributions, the nature of the book speaks to a certain literary fetishdom that can be present in such scenes. Unfortunately, meta appeals mostly to those already inside, not the casual reader.

Drinking With Dead Women Writers would be an interesting blog. But as a book, it is difficult to understand its appeal.