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Daniela Gioseffi

BOOK REVIEW by Fred Misurella of
In Bed with the Exotic Enemy:
Stories & Novella by Daniela Gioseffi

BOOK REVIEW of In Bed with the Exotic Enemy: Stories & Novella by Daniela Gioseffi by Dr. Fred Misurella, professor of American Literature, East Stroudsburg University, Pennsylvania. Born and bred in NJ, Fred Misurella is a graduate of Montclair University. He has served as a Fullbright Scholar in Paris. He is author of the novella, Short Time [Via Folios/ Bordighera, Inc. @ Purdue University. His commentary has appeared in The Village Voice and many other publications]:

[Daniela Gioseffi. IN BED WITH THE EXOTIC ENEMY. Avisson Press, Inc. © 1997, 204 pages; cloth, FOR COLLECTOR'S SIGNED EDITION $12 postpaid E-mail: editor (at) Eco-Poetry.org/

In a voice that combines the all-encompassing embrace of a Whitman with the metaphysical wit of John Donne, Daniela Gioseffi offers a collection of 16 stories and a novella that, page after page, maps the gulf of loneliness and frustration between individuals whose souls aspire to flight while their bodies remain firmly planted on earth. In a story called "The Exotic Enemy" Gioseffi's character says,

"Yes, I'm sixty-six... and I know now that erotic ideas are like flashy lights turning on in heads that echo from mouths and shine up secret places, and people can be greedy in their groins and ugliness can come even from the beauty of nubile bliss. Sex can be ripped from the blood as if the body were not a house of green moss, a vase of kindness, a space for greed set alight from the dark by the glow of hand on hand."

Time passes, the flesh decays while hopes take flight, even as the
human spirit continues to desire. The exotic enemy of the title is someone wanted, yet someone unattainable, primarily because of physical, social barriers that create barren spaces between us.


In the first story, "Bleeding Mimosa," a young journalist
participates in the 1965 march on Selma, only to be reviled, jailed, and raped by a local law officer with no capacity for social or sexual love. In "A Yawn in the Life of Venus," a young woman rises from her bed, stretches in the morning light, and takes coffee while reflecting the various ideals and frustrations of the men and women in her life who think about her with love and desire but can neither possess nor fully encompass her. Each has different ideas, memories, and images of her, so their reflections, gathered in the narrative, form a modern, cubistic portrait of a traditional mythic, as well as erotic, image.

"Rosa in Television Land" also presents a clash between tradition
and modernity. A seventy-two year old woman who works in a chocolate factory to support herself and her ailing sister earns more money in one day performing for a television commercial than she does in a month at the factory. But her earnings come at a price. She recites her lines ("Uma always use Ultragrip ona my dentures to enjoy my family pic-a-nicks!") before a table full of meats and foods such as her family only dreamed of when they sailed to America from Apulia. Then she watches, puzzled and horrified to see the table of sumptuous food dumped into garbage bags uneaten, after the filming of the Ultragrip commercial is done.

These divisions--between desire and satisfaction, tradition and
modernity--recur frequently throughout this book and may, I think, form the connecting leitmotif of Daniela Gioseffi's writing. Her wide range of interests--poetry, short stories, the novel, anthologies, and music, as well as active participation in ecological and social causes--animates almost all these stories, but never at the expense of narrative art. Complexities and mysteries of human character and behavior form the crux of every dramatic situation in the book, and social issues such as racial hatred, sexist behavior, moral intolerance, and bias concerning physical appearance serve as background and context for, as Milan Kundera sees it, a fiction writer's one true subject: the investigation of human character and the possibilities of human existence.


In this book Daniela Gioseffi conducts her investigations with
insight, wit, and, above all, compassion, always in clear, energetic
prose. The final story in the collection, a novella entitled "The Psychic Touch," demonstrates these qualities with special clarity. I recommend it for its strange pairing of characters, its absolute believability, and for the pathos and humor that make it one of the great pieces in the novella genre. A prostitute and a three-armed man fall in love, largely out of convenience, but as they live together and improve their lives, the love, physical at first (his third hand, after all, provides added technical dexterity!), evolves into a deeply felt affection and commitment. He takes up work as a bartender, his three limbs making him famous as a quick, showy mixer of cocktails, and she attends classes in literature and writing. But one night when she goes to the bar to see him, they glance at each other as he performs and for the first time see themselves and their love in a public, commercial context that illuminates and degrades their
affair. Embarrassed by a shared sense of freakishness, they revert to
self-loathing and an old despair that dooms their love. Moving swiftly toward a wrenching denouement, Gioseffi raises the level of these two characters' lives to a high plain of passion and thought, where the conflicts of soul and body, fate and personality intersect with cool, poetic beauty. Then the final lines, a yin and yang of opposites: "Where the darkness copulates with the light, the world is born again in the dawn of every morning ... as one body pours light into the darkness of another, pours hard full lit meanings into the dark wet hollows of dreams."

For more than thirty years this Italian-American, pioneer writer has given uncompromising voice to the individual spirit seeing, yearning, and deserving, yet unsatisfied. Her poetry, non-fiction, and fiction have engaged readers with humor, sensuality, and thought. Few, if any, American writers of the twentieth century combine her sense of wonder in such a unique, poetic, and dramatic fashion with a realism grounded in complex daily experience. In Bed With the Exotic Enemy gathers an important part of Daniela Gioseffi's lifelong work. It deserves the attention of all readers: Italian-Americans, feminists, social activists, and, most of all, artful, literary thinkers. It is a first rate collection, and I recommend it to VIA's audience. After all, you and I form the elusive exotic enemy
of the title.

Copyright © 1997 by Fred Misurella, Professor of American Literature & Creative Writing: East Stroudsburg University, Pennsylvania.

Back to: IN BED WITH THE EXOTIC ENEMY: "The Bleeding Mimosa:" a story from the book

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