Lament for Julia by Susan Taubes / ISBN 9781681376943 / 225-page paperback published in 2023 by New York Review Books Classics
A celestial overseer observes—and is continually confounded by—a young woman’s path into adulthood in this uncanny and darkly humorous novel, unpublished until now and accompanied by a selection of the author’s stories.
Susan Taubes’s novella “Lament for Julia” is the story of a young woman coming of age in the twentieth century as seen through the eyes of a sexless spirit who supposes himself to be charged with her oversight.
What is this spirit? An operator from on high (though hardly holy), a narrative I, and a guiding presence that is more than a bit of a voyeur, who remains entirely unknown to Julia herself. About her, the spirit knows both a good deal and very little, since Julia’s emotional and physical and sexual being are all baffling, if also fascinating, to an entity that is pure mind.
The I and Julia are a mismatched couple, set up for failure from the start, it seems, even if they do somehow manage to deal in their different ways with childhood and Mother and Father Klopps and ugly pink outfits and dances and crushes for a while. After which come love and marriage, not necessarily in that order, at which point things really start to go wrong.
Unpublished during Taubes’s lifetime, “Lament for Julia” appears here with a selection of her stories. A brilliant metaphorical exploration of a woman’s double consciousness that is also a masterpiece of the grotesque, it is a novel like no other, a book, as Samuel Beckett wrote to his French publisher, “full of erotic touches of an emphatic sort [and] raw language,” the product of an “authentic talent,” adding, “I shall reread it.”
Susan Taubes (1928–1969) was the daughter of a psychoanalyst and the granddaughter of a rabbi. She and her father emigrated to the United States from Hungary in 1939. She attended Bryn Mawr before studying philosophy and religion in Jerusalem, at the Sorbonne, and at Radcliffe, where she wrote her dissertation on Simone Weil. She and her husband, Jacob Taubes, had a son and a daughter. In 1960 she began teaching at Columbia University. She edited volumes of Native American and African folktales; published a dozen short stories; and wrote two novels, Divorcing and Lament for Julia, available and forthcoming as NYRB Classics. Her suicide came shortly after the publication of Divorcing, in November 1969.