America The Beautiful
Moon Unit Zappa
In 1963, poet Anne Sexton agitated readers with Menstruation at Forty. According to the introduction of Anne Sexton: The Complete Poems, Harper's contributor Louis Simpson called it the "straw that broke the camel's back." It was too damn much and too female. James Dickey, in the New York Times Book Review, wrote, "It would be hard to find a writer who dwells more insistently on the pathetic and disgusting aspects of bodily experience..." He meant abortion, pregnancy, sex, breasts, and the menstrual cycle. Soon after, Dickey wrote Deliverance, now famous for the violent, bodily-though-male experience of homosexual rape.
A decade or so later, John Lennon stuck a maxi pad on his forehead and it was considered a brilliantly simple, insightful statement about the taboo of the female menstrual cycle. It was the Male Artist icon appropriating and so, validating female terrain. In pop culture, it was the only way the material got any air time. If Yoko Ono had the maxi pad on her head, it would've been an entirely different story.
Now Moon Unit Zappa, offspring of pop culture, child of Male Artist and cultural icon Frank Zappa, has a novel out: America the Beautiful. It's semi-autobiographical and a slapstick hybrid of work that's come before--Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing, Bridget Jones Diary, and stand-up underdog comedy routines--all the time singing a song of bodily functions, some female, others androgynous as ear wax.
Zappa may not have had to work as hard as an unknown name to find a publisher, and it comes through in charmingly awkward scenes. There's something clumsy, but perhaps refreshing too, as the gates of commercial publishing houses fall lazily open to an unpolished celebrity. She writes, "Glurp. A warm wetness between my legs and the dull ache in my lower back and ovaries..." Instead of reaching for the famed Maxi-pad, or even a tampon, this narrator throws her blood stained underwear in the living room, wads up paper towels, and climbs back in bed. Later, she penguin waddles around the house, cradling the towels between her legs. They're still there when a friend drops by, until, "We both heard a wet thud. We looked down. The homemade pad had reached its critical mass and lay bloody side up on the floor. 'What the hell is that?'" her friend says, just as the dog rushes in. It's nothing like the hard, beautiful language of Sexton, but Zappa's novel is her own awkward, comedic story of growing up female, and under the oppressive shadow of her father's fame.