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Lust, religious zeal, and heartache come together in this provocative novel about two infatuations, one between a man and his young lover in the late 20th century and another between a 15th-century maiden and Jesus Christ.
First published in 1994, Robert Glück’s Margery Kempe is one of the most provocative, poignant, and inventive American novels of the last quarter century. The book tells two stories of romantic obsession. One, based on the first autobiography in English, the medieval Book of Margery Kempe, is about a fifteenth-century woman from East Anglia, a visionary, a troublemaker, a pilgrim to the Holy Land, and an aspiring saint, and her love affair with Jesus. It is complicated. The other is about the author’s own love for an alluring and elusive young American, L. It is complicated. Between these two Margery Kempe, the novel, emerges as an unprecedented exploration of desire, devotion, abjection, and sexual obsession in the form of a novel like no other novel. Robert Glück’s masterpiece bears comparison with the finest work of such writers as Kathy Acker and Chris Kraus. This edition includes an essay by Glück about the creation of the book titled "My Margery, Margery's Bob."
Margery Kempe lives up to neither its potential nor its premise. Gluck (Jack the Modernist) attempts to juxtapose his obsession for a young man called ``L.'' with the grotesque lust of a 15th-century mystic for Jesus. The historical Kempe followed her prolific marriage (14 children) with a round of pilgrimages, which she recorded in The Book of Margery Kempe, one of the earliest autobiographies. Gluck's character is rendered as an offensive creature who seeks sainthood through a sexual alliance with Jesus. In sections devoted to the author's affair with ``L.,'' the prose is lyrical and elegant, heavy with Gluck's growing dependency and despondency: ``My last word when I die will be his name-to say it in the grandest setting.'' Conversely, those with Kempe are filled with graphic, disparaging remarks about women (including descriptions of the genitalia of every female character, no matter how minor). It's not the idea of Jesus having a sex life that is so repellent but the strident explicitness-a marked contrast from Gluck and L.'s lovemaking, which comes as a natural part of their story and depicts the author's all-consuming passion. Lastly, Gluck's Margery is so ugly and coarse she doesn't come across as a woman at all-just a man's skewed rendering of one. Whatever Gluck's intention, he has failed. Perhaps Margery knew better than he ``that failure was intrinsic, success merely an exception.''