She Drove Without Stopping


Jaimy Gordon. She Drove Without Stopping. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1990. $18.95.

Jaimy Gordon has a Freudian view of the world. This is to say, for Gordon being female is an entrapment that occasions an elegiac eye in recounting how fathers first seduce, then abandon their daughters. This is also to say that She Drove Without Stopping is a shrewd fiction of an autobiography (or vice versa) written by a woman named Jane who drives her elegy forward by rhetorizing herself in an eternal moment of loss. Her father, a middle-class Jewish attorney named Philip Turner, has dumped her. So, Jane, who speaks eloquently for Gordon and who jumps in and out of the third person, performs a classic Freudian dance of female hysteria.

Of her loss Jane writes, “When I was seven, my father observed me hanging upside-down on the jungle gym with my spidery fingers between my legs for all the world to see; and doubt overtook him. Philip Turner, the formerly untroubled lover of his daughter, Jane.” This unguarded moment is the beginning of the end for Jane, who has memories that shape her anger no less than her ferocious sense of humor. “We all know it is different when fathers touch daughters than when mothers do. … When I was eight years old, my father still slipped his hand into my underpants sometimes and squeezed a buttock, but why?” The “why” of that statement, located somewhere between seduction and betrayal, becomes the driving force of this fiction.

The novel is played out as a cosmic joke. Philip Turner makes the terrible discovery that his daughter has a vagina, and he abandons her once and for all from his emotional life. He turns and walks away, “leaving me sitting there alone in the middle of the street.” Soon after Jane makes another discovery, that Philip Turner, who is afraid of his daughter’s femaleness, has displaced that fear onto money. She will simply cost him too much. “It was an appraisal of her as a female in monetary terms, and quite low at that, as soon as a little wire of naked sexual hope flickered on her face. … She would be boy crazy, she would be fast, she would be as expensive as possible, and she would be a sexual embarrassment. She caught a whiff of his disgust.” And so, Jane sets out to drive without stopping, to find her father in all men and to puzzle out this terrible displacement of sex and money.

Because of its inherent looniness, She Drove Without Stopping is an extremely smart book. Gordon’s prose is ripe with piercing humor as she takes on Freud no less than she takes on all sexualized fathers whose authority women bemoan yet seek out. As hard as she tries, as hard as she writes, Jane/Jaimy can never escape the man who has driven her into her fiction.

Review of Contemporary Literature, Spring 1990

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