16 January 2014

Dutiful Heart by Joy Gaines-Friedler

Review by John McCarthy

Dutiful Heart
Joy Gaines-Friedler
Broadkill River Press
Paperback, 59 pages
ISBN 9781940120 

Welcome to the suburban alienation of the modern family, the unspoken vulnerabilities propping up the American dream diorama. Joy Gaines-Friedler lulls us into an ugly undertow of self-consciousness and a fa├žade that is erected, sometimes, as a defense mechanism toward misunderstandings arising from emotional dissonance with lovers, miscommunication among family and friends, and from leaving the television on too long creating emotional white noise.

An omnipresent, aerial view into a middle class cul-de-sac with a Trader Joe’s a few blocks away is not typically what comes to mind when one imagines feelings of squalor, but the families inhabiting these places are mangled deeply by domestic violence and isolation. Gaines-Friedler gives us reality TV on the page, a structured, unnerving heartache that forces the reader to take a step back from our neighbors’ glowing smiles waving at us in the morning:

aren’t we all
quick to prove how well we work in the world,
hide the private from the public

This stanza from “Cigar Smoke Lifting” greets us with a torrent of nostalgia. There is a hint of an emotionally absent father within the poem. This memory of isolation manifests as smell. The narrator feels the sense of her “unspoken grief.” She is reminded of the disconnect she felt as a child; and by writing out the memory, she is able to confront and contend with the pain that has been surrounded by smoke.

Disappointment and nostalgia are tropes and a lot of writers play into them heavily, sometimes too much so, but Gaines-Friedler finds the uniqueness of longing, disappointment, and depression so as not to confuse the three. By understanding the complexity behind the different emotions, she is able to avoid pitfalls and help any reader dealing with emotional trauma—literally hitting close to home—find some solace:

A timeless battle: One who wants only love.
One whose hard grief is a multitude of grief,
a stone box of grief.

“Assisted Living Caring for the Irreducible” presents us with this solace. All feelings in this world spring from some individualized form of love. The poet’s understanding of love is what makes Dutiful Heart so acute. Having had love affected both positively and negatively by all those close to her, she understands the Taoist principle of opposites and polarities—there are two sides to everything. Acknowledging this law brings relief from suffering, which she eloquently pens:

I discovered
love is the devotee of suffering.

Even later the double sidedness is flushed out:

                yellow flowers torn from their roots,
                some terrible death, some beautiful life.

At its core, Dutiful Heart lets the reader know where sadness and its many parts stem from. Sadness is compounded and made worse when we dwell and fail to understand its origin. Sadness originates from love, and Gaines-Friedler wants us to understand that universal truth through tragically personal portraits of family affairs. It is this deeper understanding of divorce, familial dissonance, and illness that makes Dutiful Heart stand out from other pieces dealing with these topics. Where some books complain and beg for sympathy, Dutiful Heart encourages understanding and intellectual dialogue. It avoids becoming a trope by becoming aware of its depth, its need for solace in a world where there are no definitive absolutes:  

There are 745,000 results for AIDS CURE in a Google
                search--and not one of them is.

In the context of “Test Trials,” this is not a statement of defeat, but one of profound understanding and commentary. Searching Google, overusing technology, erecting screens in front of ourselves and our feelings creates white noise blocking out self-discovery and intuition. Technology is a false savior for the things we will never understand, represented by the Aids Cure. Understanding sorrow and love--not as two antagonizing partners--but as complementary and necessary things encouraging human interaction, then we can begin to find cures and contentment, joyful apertures. 

John McCarthy’s poetry and fiction has appeared in, or is forthcoming in, Salamander, The First Line, Popshot, The Conium Review, and The Lindenwood Review, among others. He lives in Springfield, Illinois where he is the Assistant Editor of Quiddity International Literary Journal and Public-Radio Program. He has been a regional judge for the national Poetry Out Loud recitation contest and volunteers at the Vachel Lindsay Home. His website: johnmccarthylit.com