“In Memoriam” to the Fifth Street Women’s building, at a very specific period of US history: the women’s liberation movement. Feminist, socialist, anarchist, it was New Year’s Eve, 1970 and Arnold herself was part of a group who wanted a counterlife and a revolution. Thirteen days later, it was destroyed by police. This book is specific and wide-ranging, a document and a novel about love and difference. It’s formally avant-garde too, especially in its use of non-gendered pronouns – “na” and “nan” – that grate at first on the reader’s indoctrination in a binary system of gender, then feel natural. Arnold unsettles dearly-held ideas of gender, identity, and possessive monogamy. In Texas, before they establish the takeover in New York City, the cook and the carpenter are romantic partners living collectively with children and adults. Another member, Three, joins and complicates their relationship. Through people, Arnold wonders about dualism and dialectics, unity and difference. Remarkably prescient are her questions about the nature of the self: is it fluid or essential? Much of her thinking seems more radical than most lesbian feminist essentialism, but also considers the limits of a poststructuralist concept of the self as fragmented and forever socially constructed. The dialogue, inebriated meditations, and representation of dancing as freedom, are all beautiful. Unfortunately, I was surprised by how wonderfully written this was: I didn’t expect too much from an experimental lesbian long-out-of-print book from the 70s. It’s forgotten because it’s a radical lesbian text, not because it’s badly written or polemical.
If it’s time to un-forget June Arnold’s writing, that makes me happy. Thanks for saying so much in so few words about The Cook and the Carpenter. I’d really like to read your take on Sister Gin too.
Thank you! And I can’t wait to get to Sister Gin.
When I met June Arnold, I thought she was the easiest person in the world to love. She was warm, open, and utterly sincere about wanting to liberate women, including herself. Also really really smart. Some of that warmth comes through in her writing, and it makes me feel as if she’s still around, doing her thing.
Thank you for sharing your memories, how wonderful that you were able to meet her! After only reading one of her novels, I already have that sense of her that you spoke of, and the sense that I truly like her as a person even though I’ve never met her. Her genuineness really comes through in her words.
Elisabeth Murray and Harriet Ann Ellenberger, thank you both for your words about June. Elisabeth, I posted your wonderful WordPress article on June’s Facebook page. I invite you both to check out her page. I am speechless at the moment–my heart is in my throat–but I wanted to let you know (both of you) how deeply your words have touched me.(Roberta Arnold)–June’s middle daughter.
Roberta, thank you so much for reading this post and commenting! I’m honoured that you posted my words on the Facebook page and that they mean something to you. It’s amazing the influence writers have across time and space…