I caught myself thinking about this book as I was trapped in an office this afternoon for the first time in a long time. Dumb conversations floating about me, Ruth’s defense of going dead, empty, and hollow came to me as a good escape. And then I mentally calculated the hours before I’d be able to sit down with Green Girl to finish it off. Always a good sign. My first exposure to Zambreno was Heroines, which I enjoyed, but Green Girl knocked my socks off.
Ruth is the explicit creation of the author, pushed out into the world and encountering pain at the behest of the author. Zambreno honors her idols throughout the work, early on quoting the magnificent Jean Rhys, “Today I must be very careful, today I have left my armour at home,” layering each section with establishing quotes from the various greats of film, literature, poetry, drama (Emily Dickinson, Shakespeare, Clarice Lispector, Walter Benjamin, Colette, Virginia Woolf, Andre Breton, Jose Ortega y Gasset, etc.). Ruth is an American in London, working as a shopgirl, emptying herself and trying her best to become nothing, painting on a happy face (her armor) and dealing with the loss of her mother. “Sometimes she is struck by how much she goes through life almost unconsciously. She is being swept along. She is a pale ghost. Such a haunting, vacant quality.” Initially living in a women-only dormitory, she and Agnes move into a somewhat wretched and cold flat in the East End together, Ruth sleeping on a mattress on the floor beside Agnes’ bed. Ruth becomes briefly enamored with various men, but there is one back in Chicago who has a strong hold on her memory. She would smoke and watch the world from her flat, “Sometimes people would glance up and see her watching them. She appeared to be quite deep in thought, but actually she wasn’t thinking of much at all. Sometimes her mind was completely vacant. Sometimes no one was at home. The only thing she could mourn was herself.”
Everyone always tells her how pretty she is. You’re so pretty, they say. It is a fact. She could be described in the language of growing things. She is a tender sapling. She is green, she is fresh (yet the freshest ingenues can carry with them the most depraved resumes). Yet to be beautiful, fresh, young is a horrible fate if one feels empty inside… When Ruth is feeling her emptiest, the empty compliments keep on pouring in… She is anointed daily with these compliments. You have a beautiful smiles. Eyes lowered, the modesty of a saint. Thank you… She is a willing accomplice to this farce. She paints on the smile. She paints on the happiness… But sometimes life in the spotlight can be difficult. Sometimes she wants to be invisible. Sometimes walking down the street she sends out signals of distress. Look at me (don’t look at me) Look at me (don’t look at me)
The constant battle of being seen as an object weighs on her as she does battle with a boy blocking her way:
Alright, alright, I was just trying to be friendly. I was just trying to be friendly. That’s what they all say. The feign of innocence. The pretense of Samaritan impulses. In her mind she spits in his face. She spits in all the faces of the strange men on city streets who torture her with their stares. But on her face is that same, slight smile.
After a degrading scene where she plays the reluctant part in a threesome with Agnes and a boy she fancied, Ruth has a breakdown for a few days and then cuts off her blonde locks, eventually getting them fixed by a professional. Agnes’ reaction, “Now you’re interesting. You were a bit dull before.” Later, she becomes briefly involved with a slim and intense man from the store– Rhys (too obvious of a hat tip to Jean?). She pours out her story, finally having found a vessel for her thoughts and sorrow. When Rhys won’t sleep with her, she becomes obsessed about it, finally having him and then discarding him. She decides to sleep with someone else to seal the breakup, pretending to listen to this filmmaker, bored. As they have sex, “she digs her nails into his back, which he interprets as her being hot for him, more, more, when really she is steeling herself as he continues to pound away, while she looks at the green glow of the alarm clock, wondering how much time has elapsed.”
She quits her job, sits in the park watching pigeons. Ruth takes Agnes to get an abortion, meets a guy and gets bored with him. Finds a new salesclerk job. After a harrowing first day, she escapes into the crowds, loses herself among the Hare Krishnas. She wants to go to a church “And scream. And scream. And scream.”
So far I’ve read 3 G— Girl books this year– Gone Girl, Green Girl, and Good Girl. The first 2 were tops, but Good Girl wasn’t worth the effort.
2 random connections to the book I read immediately prior: abortions & Hare Krishnas.