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Living Doll

 

Bradley’s second book, a novella, Living Doll,
(The Permanent Press, 1995) is a thinly veiled autobiography concerning child abuse. Alida Brill, author of Nobody’s Business: The Paradox of Privacy notes:

“Living Doll captures the reality of sexual abuse in a boldly different way and confronts us with the unspoken. Rarely has a writer harnessed personal pain so effectively to produce a work of such powerful insight. Living Doll is not just another chronicle in the saga of victim confessionals—it is a book of truth-telling as well as a literary gem.”

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Kirkus Review

From the author of the story collection Power Lines (1989): a thinly disguised autobiographical first novel that creates a poignant record of sexual abuse.
Shirley, the second child in a dysfunctional family, writes her story in the form of a cathartic memoir begun when she plucks up enough courage to attend a local college. Named after the child acress, whom she somewhat resembled, Shirley is one of a family of four siblings who have only a mother in common - a mother who was abused as a child by her grandfather, which may account for her erratic and monstrously destructive behavior. One moment she's giving Shirley princess-like ...Continue reading

 

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Publishers Weekly
July 3, 1995

"In this wrenching but somewhat nebulous novel of child abuse, Bradley (Power Lines) takes the point of view of a sexually molested girl. The narrator - named "Shirley" by her mother after the wholesome Shirley Temple - opens with a typically disturbing image: "When my grandfather died he had a pair of my mothers's panties in his pocket: white cotton, soft-worn from my mother's three-year-old girlish round butt." Shirley herself will face incest as a young child, at the hand of her uncle; and when she reaches adolescence, her drug-dealing mother will force her to submit to rape. Shirley's anguish manifests itself in a bizarre secret behavior - she tens a graveyard for small animals, violently rips the heads off her sister's paper dolls and escapes into a fantasy in which she is a "living doll" with a permanent smile and an impenatrable plastic body. Yet unresolved issues remain. Shirley never explains how she manages to finish school, nor what the effects of abuse might be on her two half-sisters and her half-brother. She feigns childlike naivete long into her tens but merely hints that her perfectionism could lead to anorexia. ("I worked to stay the good girl. I didn't eat much..."). When she ultimately learns to say "no" to a man, and later applies to college, her joy and relief are communicated effectively, even movingly; but her sudden courage and strong will come as a surprise after so many bouts with domestic ugliness." (Sept.)

 

Nancy Belknap ~ Professor of Special Education,
Programs for Students with Emotional Disturbance, The George Washington University

"Our graduate students studying to become special educators for children and adolescents with serious emotional disturbances must hear this story. There is much pain and love here, and it will contribute to their understanding."

Kenneth Gorelcik ~ Chief of Cont. Medical Education and co-director of the Biblio/Poetry Therapy Training Program at the DC Commission on Mental Healthy Service (St. Elizabeths)

"I read Living Doll essentially straight through and found difficulty putting it down. It shows a chain of connection that links intergenerational abuse, and it presents an instance where that chain is miraculously broken. Who can possibly explain such triumphs of the spirit? It may be in the capacity for imagination. The little girl's doll carries an awful lot of weight, a lot of hope. She can suffer punishment - have her head twisted off, be buried, whatever - yet remain unscathed. This imaginative capacity is the salvation of many abused children. But, once a protective device, the capacity to take flight may become for the adult an inconvenient and symptomatic dissociative disorder. The story we are told her is one of an almost clean conversion of the imaginative capacity not into symptom but into the metaphor."

 

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