Trinie Dalton, Sweet Tomb (Madras Press, 2010)
"I’ve foreseen my death since the day my Mom named me: Candy. It will happen after I’ve binged on my gingerbread walls, eaten the frosted windowpanes, and chewed hunks off the peppermint fireplace. The cause: Sweetheart Attack, a.k.a. Sugar Overdose. It’s a classic witch affliction. After all, a witch’s house isn’t solely built to lure starving children. They design them with their favorite treats, with tips from the Witch’s Home Journal. The magazine runs a column called 'Houses To Nibble At.' Last month’s winning house had the following caption beneath its photo: This devilishly delicious Witch’s House, with its broken candy glass path, cookie graveyard, licorice barbed-wire fence, and spooky hilltop shack with graham cracker roof, will delight a crowd of 20. I took the graveyard suggestion and have been busy baking tombstones to give my family some recognition. Everyone I’m related to is out back, mostly in the form of scattered ashes."
"Undoubtedly inspired in the first place by the Brothers Grimm, and their Hansel and Gretel tale, author Trinie Dalton takes the concept of a witch living in a confectionery-constructed cottage in the forest, and makes something fresh, original, and wholly entertaining.
It’s difficult to tell you too much more without spoiling the story (which I admit does get a little odder than odd towards the end), but keep a lookout for Chad, Candy’s vampiric boyfriend, and my absolute most favourite character – Dalton’s superbly re-engineered vision of Death, who in this story is a female with a insatiable lust for footwear; a lust which is largely satisfied by Death’s ‘eternal shoe supply’ agreement with Lucifer. Funny stuff!" - robaroundbooks
"In Sweet Tomb, Trinie Dalton tells the story of Candy, a candy-addicted witch who resents her inherited lifestyle. After a fire burns down her gingerbread house, she leaves the forest and ventures out in search of the excitement of a more urban environment. Along the way she encounters a self-mutilating puppet, tastes meat for the first time, and falls in love with Death, a skeletal woman with a shoe fetish."
"Dalton uses absurd, whimsical circumstances to reveal poignant truths about modern life." — NYLON magazine
"Trinie Dalton is as radically original a young writer as I've ever come across: a post-punk, post-apocalyptic, post-everything sensibility, casting spells of willed innocence against the powers of darkness she knows terrifyingly well." — David Gates
"Trinie Dalton is an effortless purveyor of wonder, strangeness, and love. She is a writer of high spirits and unguarded vision."— Ben Marcus
"Trinie Dalton ... [puts] a fresh spin on the world, leading the reader into places never explored—sometimes dreamlike, sometimes nightmarish, always riveting. Her vision is wholly unique and memorable." — Jill McCorkle
"Trinie Dalton fits neatly into the current resurgence of young indie fabulists like Kelly Link, Samantha Hunt and Aimee Bender, writers who followed the lead of Robert Coover and Angela Carter to explore fairy tales in postmodern contexts. In other words, authors who ponder unicorns, elves and mermaids in the godless, Freudian, skin-cancer-causing light of the 21st century.
Dalton’s 2005 story collection Wide Eyed featured werewolves in SoCal settings. With Sweet Tomb, she switches to a family of witches. Candy grows up in a house bedecked with licorice and lemon drops, never realizing that her mother has been luring her schoolmates to the family manse only to devour them in the backyard. Though she struggles with her own witch identity, the adult Candy goes through a cast of pseudodemonic lovers, including a male vampire, a wooden Pinocchio puppet and a very hot banker chick named Death, who houses a mass of writhing snakes under her designer cloak. The symbolism of these paramours is pretty obvious (the vampire drains her), but each one captures what happens when people (or demons) try to find love in others without loving themselves. There are clever moments too: In one scene, Candy bites a merman during sex, forcing him to exclaim, “I’m not sashimi.”
For the most part, however, the story remains conceptual, told from the outside in. Candy says she loves sweets, but rarely discusses their taste or smell or feel—the slickness of a butterscotch, say, or the prickles of cinnamon on the tongue. Specific, visceral language anchors the dreamworld of fictional narratives, and it’s the only thing lacking in this book (with the exception of a lavish description of Death’s shoe collection). Dalton has a lightness of tone and sensibility, a clear idea of what she’s trying to say about love and the passing on of familial traits. You can sense what Dalton is up to—just not feel it, not quite yet." — Leigh Newman
"Sunday night I babysat a much-missed blogger's baby. Or at least I think I did; she was asleep and made not a peep so I didn't even crack the door for fear of waking her up. Instead of using this block of time in a different home to rifle through my friends' things and judge them, I decided to read a book that the baby had apparently picked out.
Sweet Tooth is a tiny book of seven linked stories centering on a witch named Candy who lives in a pink city. She hates being a witch and can't decide if she should just kill herself, or bring all of her loved ones with her. I enjoyed the parts where she chronicles her attempts to be "non-witchy" as a girl and the perils of being a witch's daughter when you just want to have friends like you for you--not for all-you-can-eat candy.
Beyond her mother issues, older Candy has her fair share of bad relationships. The most steady is that with a vampire named Chad who loves her, but loves her blood best. Despite the handicap of poor social skills, long life and shitty lovers, Candy wants children on occasion but finds that, "Just because I can have fifty babies here within the hour...doesn't mean that I should or that I'll be a good mother." Considering that her own mother had stereotypical cravings, her reluctance is understandable. I like that even a with with magical baby-dispensing powers agonizes a bit about passing on the curse of witchery. For all the lemon drops and broomsticks, the anger of being born with burdensome and unpleasant traits and the subsequent fear of spreading them is a central theme in Sweet Tomb. It reminded me a lot of conversations I've had about mental illness in families.
The final two stories, "Killer Pair" and "Death Wish" are the most psychedelic of the group and the least interesting. Once Candy leaves the forest and her candy house for the city, not to return until she has achieved the lofty goal of "pain-free love in my heart and some healthy lust" she loses a bit of her magic.
Sweet Tomb would work well as young adult fiction in the vein of the Weetzie Bat stories. All of the seething, sticky anger was lost a little on me, but a 13 year-old is right there, trying to find her own path out of the woods." - tryharderyall.blogspot
"Candy is a witch with a sweet tooth. She lives in a candy cottage on the edge of Pink City, not too far from the metropolis of Oblivion, and, like many a nerd and/or monster before her, she's a bit of a misfit. She has difficulties with her mother, is in a sucky (ha ha) relationship with a vampire, and has chosen vegetarianism because she can't abide the true nature of witchcraft -- the deep carnality (and carnivorousness) that links a witch to her power.
This is just the beginning, of course. Sweet Tomb tells the story of Candy's eventual self-acceptance, a journey that involves chocolate, hallucinations about Pinocchio, and a lesbian flirtation with Death (a banker with a penchant for jeweled shoes). It's an allegory of sorts -- an inverted and updated Pilgrim's Progress for the 21st century, reoriented toward the earthly revelation of its protagonist and decidedly third wave feminist in its approach.
I liked Candy, and I identified with her process, but I felt lukewarm towards Sweet Tomb. The novella treads in some saturated territory -- most obviously, Wicked and Shrek have made fairy tale characters with oh-so-human problems ubiquitous, if not expected -- and Sweet Tomb doesn't begin to distinguish itself until close to its end, when Candy meets Death and chooses to attend a ball/shoe extravanganza/feeding frenzy hosted by Evil.
As far as I know, this is Trinie Dalton's fifth publication, including the McSweeney's anthology Dear New Girl Or Whatever Your Name Is (a book of notes confiscated from students during Dalton's time as a subsitute teacher) and Mythtym (an anthology of her self-publications). My favorite is Wide Eyed, which addresses issues similar to Sweet Tomb - sex, growing up and identity - but is much more poignant. There's a lot of humor to be found in both books, and I am a fan of Dalton's work in all its forms, but Sweet Tomb lacks the sweetly ordinary slippage between myth and reality that drives Wide Eyed.
"Not knowing where you come from is dumber than never wanting to leave." This is the last line of "Decrepit," the story that kicks off Wide Eyed. I can understand why Dalton wanted to experiment and situate Sweet Tomb's protagonist solely in the realm of fantasy, but I hope that she doesn't forget her own advice and that she continues to explore the voice that makes works like Wide Eyed so unique." - Danielle Sommer
Trinie Dalton, Unicorn Is Born (Abrams, 2007)
"Ursula, a pregnant white unicorn, prepares to grace the forest with the birth of another member of her rare, wondrous species. As nature's caretaker, Ursula is already an expert herbalist, magician, alchemist, astrologer, and psychic. Now, awaiting her first colt, she has an opportunity to embrace both the practical and mystical aspects of motherhood. Ursula's regal intelligence balanced by earthy warmth reveals her to be the quintessential mother and a generous teacher, as she divulges secrets not only about the universality of motherhood but also of confidential, ancient unicorn lore. Ursula's belly grows, and she delivers a brown, long-haired baby. As this visually stunning pair get acquainted, grazing meadows for snacks, practicing spells, or, later, diving off their favorite rock in a nearby stream, Ursula realizes the true infinity of nature's power and revels in her happiness at having experienced animal magic in a completely new way."
"This book is golden, woven through with magic, and abundant with unicorn and forest lore...
It tells the story of Ursula, a 600 year old Forest Unicorn, who decides she's ready to bear a child. We spend time with Ursula as she prepares and brews magical tea with her friend Quinn, the squirrel, and intuitively discovers that he child shall be named Uma; as she participates in the Honey Horn Mane Decorating Fair, a Unicorn mating ritual held every 50 years (that's when unicorn stags mate), meets a handsome stag, and conceives her child; as she, now pregnant, satisfies her craving for rainbows on a walkabout of sorts, accompanied by her friend Arf, the gray fox; as she finds and prepares the ideal birthplace and nursery for Uma-- the Perfectly Symmetrical Canyon; as she gives birth to Uma, surrounded and protected by a whole host of forest friends; and as she raises Uma through a number of interesting and magical experiences...
What makes this book unique is the combination of writing and illustration. Trinie Dalton's writing reveals a rich respect, love, and knowledge of nature, one that sees beyond the form and captures the spirit, and Kathrin Ayers illustrations perfectly capture that mystical essence as they detail Ursula's journey to and into motherhood. Though intended, I imagine, for younger audiences - children and young teens - the writing is robust and challenging, never veering into the patronizing prose that often infects books written for this age range...
I highly recommend this book for all the kids you love - for the holidays, for birthdays, or just because you love them. But be sure to kick back and read it yourself first. A gift for your inner child. A magical journey to a place we all know exists...
Enjoy..." - Oceanshaman
Trinie Dalton, Wide Eyed (Akashic Books, 2005)
"In Trinie Dalton's tweaked vision of reality, psychic communications between herself and Mick Jagger, The Flaming Lips, Marc Bolan, Lou Reed, and Pavement are daily occurrences. Animals also populate this book; beavers, hamsters, salamanders, black widows, owls, llamas, bats, and many more are characters who befriend the narrator. This collection of stories is told by a woman compelled to divulge her secrets, fantasies, and obsessions with native Californian animals, glam rock icons, and horror movies, among other things. With a setting rooted in urban Los Angeles but colored by mythic tales of beauty borrowed from medieval times, Shakespeare, and Grimm's fairy tales, Wide Eyed makes the difficulties of surviving in a contemporary American city more palatable by showing the reader that magic and escape is always possible.
Stories include, "Hummingbird Moonshine," in which the narrator's frustrated hunt for authentic religion in botanicas and science books culminates in a spiritual connection made with a hummingbird. In "Oceanic," she resolves to marry a manatee after a drunken pre-party for her best friend's wedding. In "Tiles," four vignettes about bloody accidents in tiled bathrooms intermingle with scenes from Dalton's favorite scary movies.
Featuring oddball prose in the traditions of Dalton's literary heroes - Denton Welch, Robert Walser, and Jane Bowles - these stories have a dreamy, imaginative quality that reveal a peculiar state of mental ecstasy. To be inside the mind of Trinie Dalton is to be escorted into bliss."
"With linked anecdotes substituting for plot, Dalton's 20 quick, vibrant, wild tales read more like fantastical diary entries than short stories. Narrated by the same woman at different ages, they reveal what most fascinates her: animals and magic and death and the sensual, up-close details of both earthly and unearthly beings. In "Soft Dead Things," the narrator riffs on things fur-related ("Fur makes me sad but excited"), including her dog ("Sometimes when I wake up, I'll kiss my dog's snout, but it unnerves me to think of the trash and hairy testicles it's been rooting around in"), the hamster she accidentally killed when she was a girl ("I pet her dead wet body for a long time") and a Beverly Hills fur store that both attracts and repels her. The latest in Dennis Cooper's Little House on the Bowery series, the work is ripe with sensuality and playfulness. In the hilarious "Bienvenido el Duende," the narrator exchanges letters with a Christmas elf, while "Animal Party" is a lovely meditation on cats and loneliness. Dalton's unique blend of dream and bracingly honest observation makes this a delightfully weird and disarming read." - Publishers Weekly
"Trinie Dalton's voice is so charming in these stories and they fly right by, so it takes a little time to realize how deftly she is talking about death and sex and fear and love and fur and slumber parties, how lightly she touches upon heaviness, making an imprint so gentle you don't know it's there until later, when the story floats back up in your memory, light as a butterfly or a blood-oil lilypad in the bath." - Aimee Bender
"Trinie Dalton is as radically original a young writer as I've ever come across: a post-punk, post-apocalyptic, post-everything sensibility, casting spells of willed innocence against the powers of darkness she knows terrifyingly well." - David Gates
"These charming stories vibrate with innocence and awe. Trinie Dalton is an effortless purveyor of wonder, strangeness, and love. She is a writer of high spirits and unguarded vision, and this debut collection is an absolute pleasure to read." - Ben Marcus
"In Wide Eyed, a wonderfully eccentric and vibrant collection, Trinie Dalton showcases her ability to put a fresh spin on the world, leading the reader into places never explored--sometimes dreamlike, sometimes nightmarish, always riveting. Her vision is wholly unique and memorable." - Jill McCorkle
"Penned by the likes of Jill McCorkle and Ben Marcus, blurbs for Trinie Dalton’s first book, Wide Eyed, feature phrases such as “wonderfully eccentric,” and “wholly unique and memorable.” However, as with many books, there appears to be a “blurb gap” between the content and its characterization on the cover. Wide Eyed’s stories are loose and open forms, but their unorthodoxy is not deep or transgressive. For the most part they are loose collections of anecdotes and observations from what seems to be the same first-person narrator: a young woman in contemporary Los Angeles living a mildly bohemian life. The voice is innocent and jaded, sincere and arch, a pastiche blending The Beatles and Pavement with unicorns, video games, heroin, and slumber parties.
In general the stories don’t follow a particular dramatic arc, and often just stop rather than formally conclude. Similar to riff-based jazz, the pieces frequently take a short motif, such as a love of cats or an interest in horror movies, and explore it from several perspectives, weaving in thoughts and images inspired by the motif, until a sort of organic stopping point is reached.
There is humor and energy here, but in the flat tone of someone young and not tremendously reflective, someone who travels in the ocean of pop culture like an Olympic swimmer; the first seven short paragraphs of “Decrepit,” for example, include references to King Kong and Godzilla, Xanax, the New Wave (as in the 1980s), Kruschev, Craftsman style, and the Carter Family. Still, amidst the pop culture detritus moments of real pathos and power shine through, especially in the understated scenes involving young girls’ coming of age. Even in the settings most hostile to sentiment, there exists clarity and even an elliptical wisdom: “I think of a reverse chrysalis,” the young female narrator of “Chrysalis” says of watching slasher movies in which teen girls are victims, “like they’re kids who come out of a paradisiacal state only to enter their own personal hell.”
Dalton’s informal prose is interpolated at times with slightly elevated language, along with slang, spoken idioms, shorthand cultural references (that is, references taken for granted as understood), unresolved comparatives (“We were so relieved to see the giant red heart”), indefinite use of definite pronouns, and occasionally, simply infelicitous phrases. At times the writing is like the faux portentous language of many rock and roll lyrics; the first story in the collection features an epigram from the band Pavement: “I’d want a range life / If I could settle down. / If I could settle down, / Then I would settle down.”
The narrator escapes into dreams, and into nature, as frequently as possible. Virtually all of the stories contain items from a stock collection of tropes and images: unicorns, elves, fairies, Santa Claus, mermaids, chivalric legends, cats, dogs, mushrooms, fish, salamanders. Birds and flowers adorn every background, and scenes frequently include the narrator’s musings on fantastic human-animal interactions. Yet at the same time that she ascribes a kind of holiness to creatures great and small, she loves ham and pot roast too, and as a young girl killed her treasured pet hamster in the course of forcing the poor animal to pretend she was a character from Beatrix Potter; this last act is described by the adult narrator with more of a sense of surprise than regret. Her love of nature seems, at the least, incompletely considered.
Themes here include male-female relations, pop culture’s role in constructing a world view, female friendships and female coming of age, and, poignantly at times, being alone. For the most part, ideas and themes arise indirectly and elliptically, almost by accident, as the narrator relates anecdote after anecdote and ghostly ideas rise over the scenes and action.
These stories often feel like miniatures, or even dioramas. At the same time, the narrator on occasion gets oracular, making pronouncements that can seem unearned in someone so young and skittish about absolutes. Discussing an aunt who kept the secret of the narrator’s late father’s terminal illness at his request, while the narrator and her mother didn’t know about his sickness, the narrator says “she secretly knew he was dying and didn’t do a thing to change it. That’s pretty close to murder.” Such pronouncements typically, as here, end paragraphs or sections like a punchline.
Whether the author is being ironic or this is meant to be taken at face value, Wide Eyed often reads like diary or journal writing, perhaps a reflection of the author’s journalism background. The narrator possesses an unusual voice and sensibility that is infectiously charming, making the book as entertaining—and as potentially ephemeral—as candy. Sorry, blurbers." - Ed Taylor
"Trinie Dalton's Wide Eyed, the latest installment in Dennis Cooper’s Little House on the Bowery series, is a short story collection that pushes the imagination envelope. To call this collection eclectic is to call rain wet. It’s an adventure through random musings expertly crafted into short stories. It’s a glimpse into a head you wish was your own, if only temporarily.
Dalton’s stories include a medley of characters, a majority of them feathered or furry -- humming birds, dogs, cats, hamsters, sharks, Chewbacca (yes, the wookie), unicorns, snakes, salamanders, skunks, bobcats - as well as boyfriends, girlfriends and parents. Subjects are as random as the characters: mushroom hunting, cleaning out grandma’s house, night gardening, drugs, swimming with wild creatures, and Burger Time video game parties. While these stories aren’t what typically come to mind when discussing short fiction, they should. They are full of realistic dialogue, clear scenes, thoughtful scenarios and unique conflicts for characters to work through. In one instance, a pistol-toting ex who likes to watch women vomit creates an awkward moment and the narrator thinks he might kill her. In attempt to save herself she makes out with him. And forces herself to vomit.
All 20 shorts are in first person, but they feel more intimate, more honest than mere stories, like Dalton’s sitting cross-legged on your couch talking directly to you. You listen to all the weird things that happen in her stories and feel a partial ownership of them because you connect with her, you can somehow relate. While the stories are fiction, it’s difficult not to picture Dalton as the narrators - you want the stories to be real despite their absurdities or truisms. And believing in them isn’t so difficult with Dalton’s frankness and introspections. “Sometimes when I wake up, I’ll kiss my dog’s snout, but it unnerves me to think of the trash and hairy testicles it’s been rooting around in.”
Her unique voice is obvious in each story despite subject matter and the occasional unreliable narrator. But that’s part of the joy of her stories, too. Philosophical overtones in one or two stories slows reading and encourages mental meandering, though the more magical stories pull double-duty and make up for them.
Wide Eyed is a wild, mixed bag of story with something for everyone. Some stories are more fantasy than others, but the book mostly reads like a diary, the kind of diary where you can’t help but occasionally question what the writer was smoking. From the humorous “Bienvenido el Duende” - a letter exchange between the narrator and one of Santa’s elves - to the more serious and realistic “Sinners,” Dalton keeps pages turning. With each story averaging approximately nine pages, Dalton’s sometimes-fantastic, sometimes-realistic adventures are over before you know it. What you’re left with is a desire for more adventure, more characters, and more honesty." - Ryan Klos
"It would be a pain to try to read the stories in Trinie Dalton’s debut work of fiction, Wide Eyed, as sequential narratives. Rather, they’re more like refractive clouds of free-association. A little messy and sprawling, yes. But what differentiates Dalton’s prose from, say, an online blog rant, is the open, dilated state of mind. Expanding and contracting at whim, the short story collection features the kind of deliciously dissociative lucidity that happens at three in the morning, the times when you’re bereft of all consciousness between sense and nonsense. “My face is not exactly like two dogs humping, but it’s just as fascinating and embarrassing,” declares the narrator in the opening line of “Faces,” a listing and examination of different faces.
Like the title suggests, the stories in Wide Eyed unabashedly explore the frontiers of where a midnight state of curiosity and candor can take you. So it’s not unusual to encounter mutant salamanders emerging from bathtub drains, nightly conversations with Mick Jagger, the experience of being picked to the bone and cannibalized by your friends. Throughout, Dalton pollinates and cross-pollinates throwaway observations and images into entirely new complex hybrids, regardless of inbred grotesqueness. It’s like watching the shapes in a kaleidoscope blossom into pattern after pattern without warning.
Again and again, the physicality and behavior of animals and humans recurs as an obsessive theme. Dalton draws toward the barriers that separate humans and other animals, and circumstantially, the barriers that separate life and death, fantasy and reality. In a passage that would make a PETA activist’s blood curdle, she nonchalantly writes, “To be truthful, I can’t wait until my pooch is a foxy red panda-jacket. Sometimes I contemplate where in the house I will place his tanned skin — in the hallway, or maybe in the most classic spot, before the fireplace? I imagine lying on my side, nude, drinking champagne and having sex to Barry White on the earthly remnants of his being.”
The fascination with physicality also extends to the narrator’s own body. In “Sinners,” she recreates a dream she has of her own death: “The air smells dank like rotten Band-Aids, plasticine and poisonous. The killer leads me up to his lair and chops me up. Fingers come off one by one. I lie face down in red, bloody water. My extremities waft off to shore where baby gators can fight over them.” The gruesomeness of the murder is beside the point. The narration pans from her chopped up bits to the hypothetical sea creatures swimming underneath them: “Crabs crawl by. Long eels slither across my peripheral vision. Fish, crawdads, and mosquito larvae hook back and forth, back and forth.”
If there’s anything discomforting about this scenario, it’s Dalton’s easy way of deferring you away from the sensationalist and obvious toward something else entirely. Slowly but surely, you’re coaxed into riding her train of thoughts, winding toward an uncanny, utterly fucked up, and beautiful place. You just have to put up with the goose bumps that arise on your arm." - Ling Ma
"Basically this book is pretty fucking rad. It’s a succession of semilinked stories blending Trinie Dalton’s obsession with proto-punk rock stars, animals, and horror movies to form her amazing and fake autobiography, Wide Eyed. After the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” helps her to drown out the sounds of lobsters being boiled alive and later to cope with her mother’s remarriage, Mick Jagger appears to our narrator in a vision, and she explains to him how Antoni van Leeuwenhoek discovered sperm by looking at his own semen under a microscope and dissecting rabbit testicles. In “Decrepit,” Dalton and her roommates, living in a house inhabited by a ghost, enact a play about a giant maggot, which threatens to grow so large that it suffocates the residents. “The maggot play was meant to be retro like Godzilla or King Kong – one of those huge creatures dominating humanity stories,” Dalton writes. “But we were wasted on Xanax, dressed in red dresses and red feather boas, so it had a New Wave feel … ‘I vill crush you,’ said Heidi in a low Krushchevian maggot/dictator voice from behind the door. ‘I am zee maggot.’” After all of this temporal compression, it is fitting that Dalton makes the ghost a po-mo poster child: “Eras run into one ageless mess. Ghosts live in different eras simultaneously.”
Dalton’s family and real-life boyfriend, as well as various places she’s lived, make repeated, although wildly distorted, appearances in these stories. When Dalton spoke with me from her home in Los Angeles, she cited a long tradition of autobiographical writing that isn’t exactly, um, true but maintains much of the author’s personality, perspectives, and life details, which is part of what makes even the book’s most fantastical elements feel like they actually happened. “I think it made me feel free to say whatever I want without having the labor-intensive job of creating characters,” Dalton said. “I wanted to convince myself the stories were real.”
While the narrator often seems content to do nothing but sit on the porch drinking beer or get horny watching salamanders in a mountain stream, and is someone whose greatest ambition is to be a “puppy rancher… designer of fantasy postal stamps [or] an incense critic,” Dalton herself has been quite busy. After several years teaching in LA high schools that were too poor to afford textbooks and taking on second and third jobs to make ends meet, Dalton has now tossed her considerable energy into her creative projects. In addition to publishing her first book and editing her zine, Werewolf Express, Dalton cocurated the current exhibit at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (“Werewolves, Cults and Sarcastic Hippies”), and McSweeney’s recently released a book of artists’ interpretations of the amusing and vitriolic notes she confiscated from her students. Dalton is a visual artist as well, and her cover art for Wide-Eyed serves as an example of what sarcastic hippieness might mean, with ludicrously over-the-top Lisa Frank-style New Age images of unicorns shooting rainbow lasers out of their horns and a sasquatch with illuminated lotus chakras.
Like Aimee Bender’s and Kurt Vonnegut’s, Dalton’s writing is so unusual and enjoyable that only in retrospect does one realize the disturbing and complex ideas and themes it presents. Dalton pits the narrator’s intelligent innocence against the world’s brutality, sometimes in the form of sexual assault, at other times against a danger dredged from the subconscious of horror films. During a stoned teenage slumber party, a biker demands that she remove her underwear. He sniffs it sensuously, hocks a loogie in it, and then demands that she put it back on. Yet the narrator continues to extend compassion to unlikely candidates, visiting a lonely, sexually aggressive vomit fetishist in the hospital who responds only by saying “I like your tits.”
“The early movies I watched were the American classics like Halloween, Friday the 13th, and the Hellraiser movies,” Dalton explained. “Not that I think life is actually like that, but I like the drama and sexual tension in it. I think the females being the victims in some of these stories has to do with wanting to analyze female stereotypes in horror movies.” While works like Carol Clover’s Men, Women and Chainsaws examines both the oppressive and empowering aspects of movies of teenage girls sawing up serial killers, Dalton’s stories seem to take that criticism and turn it back into good, sturdy narrative.
In addition to her refreshingly unusual subject matter, Dalton has a fantastic command of language. As in the work of David Foster Wallace and Tom Bissell, each new sentence feels capable of nearly anything while still carrying on the story. Lines such as “I host a Mick Jagger movie marathon every three years, which begins and ends with Rolling Stones’ Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus featuring Brian Jones and Marianne Faithful, sick from just having aborted the baby that would have been Mick’s” seem more absurdly obsessive on each rereading. Also check out the great eye for detail: “When we shoved the cats away there was this little pile of butter scalloped into a pyramid shape by their sandpapery tongues. Land O’ Lakes, unsalted – with the box where you can tear off the Indian princess and fold her knees into her chest area so she has major hooters.”
Part of what makes these stories so appealing is that Dalton writes not only about what she knows but also about what she loves and obsesses over. Some of the stories even function quite successfully as inventories: occasions when she’s witnessed blood spilled on tiles, a list of unicorn trinkets observed on a road trip across Texas, and recollections of “soft dead things” – from deceased pets to the contents of upscale fur shops to threadbare steering-wheel covers.
“I was trying to figure out if I could make fiction a little more like visual art,” she writes. “More and more I just want a lot of visceral and interesting bits of language that can evoke ideas or feelings in a reader without telling them what to think.” - Ben Bush
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Trinie Dalton, Mythtym (PictureBox, 2008)
"Writer, artist, musician and prolific zine-maker Trinie Dalton has said of her work, "The idea of introducing and contextualizing artists by hanging their art on the same wall is a fundamental one in the art world. To me, my zines are literary/art/music history anthologies, following the group-show or salon style. They're like parties on paper, and I want to be an exquisite host." Dalton's "parties on paper" bring together artists, musicians, critics, novelists, cartoonists and other less-classifiable cultural producers. Mythtym compiles the greatest hits from previous zines, as well as a new, 100-page piece on the subject of mirrors: As symbols in horror stories, psychological metaphors, as material for psychedelic art and the disco ball. Contributors include: Folkert de Jong, Takeshi Murata, Jim Drain, Jay Babock, Andrew Leland, Aura Rosenberg, Sue de Beer, Leif Goldberg, Matt Greene, Nick Lowe, Brian Sholis, Benjamin Weissman, Francine Spiegel, Derek McCormack, Jesse Bransford, Shamim Momin, Amy Gerstler, David Altmejd, Sammy Harkham, Rachel Kushner, Dennis Cooper, Marnie Weber, Banks Violette, Dearraindrop and Paper Rad."
"In any 1970s horror movie worth its splatter budget, there’s a crucial moment when a comely young woman examines herself in a mirror and is promptly killed. For Trinie Dalton, such hopelessly clichéd moments are packed with clues to our darkest fears.
Dalton is the editor of “Mythtym,” a new anthology of essays, fiction and artwork - both serious and campy - about werewolves, unicorns and what she calls “mirror horror.” As she explains: “If you watch enough of those movies, they’re all exactly the same. These splattercore movies have their own tropes -- like how the best way to show blood is to cut someone up in the shower so you see it on the tiles. But then you realize that these clichés are based on archetypes. The mirror as a symbol seems most powerful in a time of fear, when people step back and look at themselves.”
“Mythtym” is both a deep investigation into (and a cheeky balm for) the things that scare us. It’s comprised of three different zines that Dalton, author of “Wide Eyed” and “Dear New Girl or Whatever Your Name Is,” made over recent years.
In “Mirror Horror,” the first and largest section, she traces the theme of damning narcissism in works as diverse as the woodcuts of Albrecht Dürer and the bloodbucket slasher flicks of Dario Argento.
Then, echoing the wry spirit of her friend Miranda July, she follows up with a section devoted entirely to unicorn kitsch.
Unicorns - really? The explanation why after the jump.
Instead of derailing the book’s otherwise involved explorations of mythology and high-gloss production values, this offers a knowing wink at the silliness of such pursuits.
“That’s just my sense of humor, and it’s a very contemporary way of making art, to just throw everything in there,” Dalton says. “It’s like how I watch horror movies that might otherwise be disturbing: if you look at it with an intellectual framework, or people around you are laughing at the scenes, you’re not scared of it.”
“Werewolf Express,” the book’s final segment, splits the difference, bookended by Dalton’s essay on werewolf mythology and feminist semiotics and an illustrated spread of dog stickers offering advice to Shelley Duvall. In between is a smattering of short work by authors such as Rachel Kushner and Amy Gerstler, as well as photos of mixed-media sculpture, campy illustrations and video stills.
“Mythtym” may be the ideal reference book for our collective psyche -– at once macabre, escapist and unexpectedly incisive. It might even take us back to a time when we were afraid to drift too far away from the campfire.
“Maybe it’ll return us to a healthy respect of nature,” Dalton says. “I love hiking by myself. I’ll go out on a trail for miles and never once feel scared. This is an artificial condition. I’m glad I get to be out there, but maybe people wouldn’t thrash nature so much if we were more afraid of it.”- August Brown
"Brooklyn-based artist Trinie Dalton began making zines about mythological subjects a decade ago, while living in Joshua Tree. Perhaps inspired by the desert heat, Dalton published "Strawberry Shortcake Meets the Aztec Gods," in which the eponymous greeting-card character encounters vicious jaguars from Central American myth. The zines are curatorial projects, generally including an essay by Dalton and the solicited participation of artists, writers, and like-minded friends. Three of the publications are compiled as Mythtym, which Dalton signs tonight.
Says Dalton of her interest in mythology: "I really like the fantasy element. I like the idea that reality isn't fixed. Not in a spiritual sense, but to think that reality is an option and you can read your reality however you like." Dalton explains that the palindromic title Mythtym is itself a cosmology, a closed-circuit myth of her own zines. "Touch of Class" is a relatively light treatment of unicorns, while "Werewolf Express" deals with transformation and sexuality in a darker tenor, comparable to the work of David Altmejd. (It was part of a 2005 exhibition, "The Zine UnBound: Kults, Werewolves and Sarcastic Hippies," at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center.) The bulk of the book is an original entry, "Mirror Horror," of which the centerpiece is Dalton's essay about a collection of film stills in which women gaze in a mirror before they are killed. Therein she links Snow White to 15th-century witchcraft, discussing the mirror as both "the bane of feminine existence... where self-criticism and loathing fester" and also something mutable and empowering.
Dalton reviews horror films, and "Mirror Horror" launched from her interest in 70s era cinema—Dario Argento, Mario Bava, and Bruno Gantillon's soft-core lesbian- and hypnotized-vampire-themed Girl Slave of Morgana Le Fay. Themes of decay and abjection are complemented by Aurel Schmidt's hyperreal assemblages of anthropomorphized filth. Alex Segade of performance collective My Barbarian contributed a written piece about watching his mother, a model in the 60s, dress up in the mirror to examine his own relationship to the mirror and to costume. Francesca Gabbiani's elaborate cutouts are vampyric mirrors in which there is no reflection.
The zines were originally handmade in black and white, and were transferred into hardcover format by designer James Goggin, adding Dalton's photograph of her cat dressed up like Dolly Parton to the cover." - Alex Gartenfeld
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