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Pussy Grabs Back in Karen Finley’s Newest Book
Courtesy Karen Finley

Pussy Grabs Back in Karen Finley’s Newest Book

This may sound weird but you kind of need to read this book out loud.

Karen Finley, its author, is of course most famous as a mesmerizingly boundary-smashing performance artist; throughout her written body of work, the purring and percussive performative voice remains very much in evidence even on the page. All the more so in this case because the contents of Grabbing Pussy are essentially the libretto from Finley’s 2017 stage work, the multi-act one-woman political mad scene Unicorn Gratitude Mystery.

This book, like the work that incarnated it, responds directly to the salacious, misogynistic and morally bankrupt situation with the American political discourse in the era of Trump. The dysfunctional and hypocritical power structures of our society are home turf for Finley, a veteran of the 1980s culture wars herself, and a powerfully transgressive voice for progressive awareness for her entire career. Grabbing Pussy delivers on its promise, as both incisive political commentary and explosive, emotional, acerbic, gymnastic prose poetry.

Finley’s special gift is for alternating direct observation with a spiked stream of consciousness–style wordplay. She loves verbal rhymes and resonance as an aesthetic matter, delighting in a filthy pun or homoerotic homonym, and deploying several voices in rotation and succession across the text. Onstage, this might be augmented with costume and of course vocal changes, in addition to the raw energy of diction and delivery.

Intone Finley’s words, channel her outrage with power and emphasis, feel the almost-rhyming rhythms, the Gertrude Stein–inflected cyclicals of the words themselves and what they suggest through their own agency, as their own qualities communicate the ideas by other means. This text exists on the continuum between literature and performance, which is her realm. So yeah, read it out loud.

Each vignetted monologue refers to a specific event, headline, meme or indelible episode from the 2016 presidential campaign and its aftermath, through the first year of the regime. Epigraphs from both 45 and Hillary Clinton  set up a twisted call-and-response, using the most looped, cited, replayed and parsed examples. “When you’re a star they let you do it.” “Blood coming out of her wherever.” Comments on hand size, penis size, crowd size, the electoral college, ratings share, stamina, pee-pee, shitholes, racism, pantsuits, the blue dress, the in-bubble lifestyle of the progressive unicorn and, as always, emails emails emails.

“If only she said she liked to grab men by their balls,” Finley speculates, “maybe she would have had a chance.”

Grabbing Pussy is available online now, and the print version comes out on Election Day, Nov. 6.

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