Rower, Ann 1938-
ROWER, Ann 1938-
PERSONAL: Born 1938.
ADDRESSES: Home—60-82 60th Dr., Maspeth, NY 11378-3536. Offıce—School of Visual Arts, 209 East 23rd St., New York, NY 10010.
CAREER: Writer. School of Visual Arts, New York, NY, member of faculty.
If You're a Girl, Semiotext(e) (Brooklyn, NY), 1990.
Armed Response, Serpent's Tail (New York, NY), 1996.
Baby, Serpent's Tail, (New York, NY), 2002.
Lee and Elaine, Serpent's Tail (New York, NY), 2002.
Contributor to periodicals such as BOMB, Journal of Contemporary Fiction, and High Risk 2.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Biography of her uncle, singer Leo Robin.
SIDELIGHTS: Author Ann Rower "has a word for the fiction/nonfiction crossover: transfiction," wrote Regina Weinreich in American Book Review, noting that it is an attractive word, because of the combination of the words transfix and trance, and the inherent pun on the word "transfixion." Rower's 1990 book, If You're a Girl, is such a fiction/nonfiction hybrid, Weinreich wrote, an "experiment in how to write about what actually occurred," Weinreich observed. Among the segments of the book are transcriptions of an interview with Rower conducted by the Wooster Theater Group, in which she describes in detail her early days as a babysitter for Timothy Leary's kids—and frequently, for his distinguished visitors. "Especially poignant are her descriptions of relationships, so full of a resigned tone," Weinreich wrote. "I'm not sure if it was supposed to be like this, but this is the way it is anyway."
Rower's 1996 book, Armed Response, is a "bitterly funny novel about death, personal space, and home-security systems in L.A.," wrote Glen Helfand on the Guardian Lit Web site. "In this hauntingly bitchy book the city is a glittering upscale necropolis. It's filled with European sports cars, circular Wilshire Boulevard condominiums, lavish, never-used swimming pools, and the chic air-conditioned eateries."
The book's narrator, Ann, is a New York writer who must make regular trips to the west coast to attend funerals and death-watches for soon-to-expire relatives. The story revolves around Ann, her aunt Cherrie, and Cherrie's daughter Lainie's family. "They're an entertaining, tragic lot," Helfand observed. Though deteriorating physically, Cherrie maintains her own dignity as well as a grip on the dignity of old Hollywood. Lainie, on the other hand, lives in high-class but repressive suburban luxury. Lainie's husband Rocky is a lout and her daughter Candee is a depressed aspiring actress. In Armed Response "Rower gives entertainingly sociological insight into her ironically regional characters," Helfand wrote. To someone with little direct experience with L.A., Rower's characters may seem like stereotypes, Helfand remarked. "But take it from a native—this stuff is for real."
"As she scratches the surface of this shiny landscape," Helfand noted, "Rower reveals aspects of the city's inherent alienation and unique social boundaries." This includes a type of claustrophobic panic that ultimately leads Candee to commit suicide by ingesting rat poison; her funeral is an exercise in the banal, another aspect of L.A. life illuminated by the novel. "Rower taps into highly universal themes and draws not-sounlikely connections between the genuine pain you feel when a favorite auntie passes away and what you feel when you find out that she didn't will you the Jag."
In Rower's 2002 novel Lee and Elaine, the unnamed narrator, a painter and art teacher in New York, is jolted into a midlife crisis by the death of an old friend. While visiting the Green River Cemetery in the Hamptons, the narrator happens upon the graves of Lee Krasner and Elaine de Kooning—wives of famed painters Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. She becomes convinced that there is a connection between the two wives; she decides to write a book reimagining the wives as close friends and lesbian lovers. "Lee and Elaine is the saga of her not writing this book," wrote Carol Anshaw in Advocate.
The narrator, which Anshaw called "one of the most self-absorbed protagonists in modern fiction," uses the research as "a way for the narrator to avoid her own failed career, her fears of aging, and the disintegration of a 20-year relationship with her live-in boyfriend," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer. The narrator engages in a lesbian relationship with Iris, one of her students, and has liaisons with other younger women when the affair with Iris dissolves. Her sporadic research on Lee and Elaine reveals that the women were not only straight, but didn't seem to like each other much at all. "The upshot: she doesn't have much of a story, and neither do we," wrote a Kirkus Reviews critic.
"There is something hugely irritating but nonetheless riveting about the childlike way this character views life—all of it—as something that's essentially about her," Anshaw commented. "Perhaps many people feel this way; they're just too embarrassed to admit it, except perhaps to their journals. Reading Lee & Elaine offers precisely something of this guilty pleasure, like picking up a stranger's diary off a bus seat."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
A Dictionary of American Poets and Fiction Writers, 1999-2000 edition, Poets & Writers, Inc. (New York, NY), 1998.
Advocate, Carol Anshaw, April 2, 2002, review of Lee and Elaine, p. 75.
Booklist, February 15, 2002, Whitney Scott, review of Lee and Elaine, p. 994.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1995, review of ArmedResponse, p. 1139; February 1, 2002, review of Lee and Elaine, p. 141.
Publishers Weekly, October 9, 1995, review of ArmedResponse, p. 82; February 25, 2002, review of Lee and Elaine, p. 43.
Village Voice Literary Supplement, June, 1991, review of If You're a Girl, p. 29.
Advocate Web Site,http://www.advocate/com (May 9, 2002), Carol Anshaw, "Narcissistic Sister."*