February 22, 2008


Throughout Cris Mazza’s prolific body of books—over a dozen and still counting—the question of "identity" looms large: her characters are not just in search for "self-knowledge" or "self-expression"—they aren’t merely "trying to find themselves" to use a common idiom—but rather they are often on a quest for the very artifacts of memory that make us seem to be who we claim to be at any given moment.

As the protagonist, Corinne Staub, of Your Name Here:__________ notes for instance: "Choosing what to call you means choosing the distance." Identity is not set or determined (and, in fact, as we learn in that novel, Corinne Staub was at one time called Rita Haley, a woman of suspect memory who was once (possibly) gang-raped). The framing—the story we choose to tell both ourselves and others—is everything. Gertrude Stein notes "I am I because my little dog knows me." Cris Mazza is a dog lover and trainer extraordinaire (in fact one her of her many books is Dog People). But in her worlds, even a "little dog" would have to sift through an assorted and multi-layered body of evidence to come to any conclusion about its owner.

Indeed, in her latest novel, Waterbaby, a childhood near-drowning accident becomes the catalyst for what we might call an extended "immersion" (as it were) in Tam Marr-Burgess’s family history—a series of sagas that compete with one another for authenticity. As in many of Mazza’s fictions, the reader glimpses the grains of truth in every story, particularly in stories where the idea of fictionality itself is paramount.

Cris Mazza has been called a "subversive, anarchistic writer." Her fictions have been described as "literary sitcoms from hell." She is the winner of numerous awards and currently a Professor in the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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