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Dorothy Parker's Elbow: Tattoos on Writers, Writers on Tattoos    Editors Kim Addonizio & Cheryl Dumesnil order for
Dorothy Parker's Elbow
by Kim Addonizio
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2002 (2002)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Why Dorothy Parker's Elbow? Apparently 'this irreverent author, always ahead of her time, had a star permanently inked on her elbow.' The book includes fifty short pieces (prose and poesy) on the subject of 'Tattoos on Writers, Writers on Tattoos'. It's an eclectic collection, ranging from speculative fiction - a wonderful excerpt from Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man, whose tattoos predict the future - to biographical accounts, contemporary short stories, classics by Herman Melville and Franz Kafka, and a variety of verse.

The introduction discusses the growth in the community of the tattooed in the last few years and the fact that 'tattooing has emerged from the underbelly to the surface of the American landscape'. Its promise that these writings 'will get under your skin' is fulfilled. Protagonists include Auschwitz survivors, well known authors, a Fantasy Island star, Vietnam veterans, a lawyer, both men and women. There is an ongoing theme of a search for permanence and openness.

In the quirky romance, It's Bad Luck to Die, a Jewish girl from Des Moines marries an older tattoo artist. He loves to illustrate her and turns her into 'a love letter'. She comments that 'Anyone could read me like a book' but others' lives are hidden. Jennifer Armstrong's Snakes also addresses the role of tats in communication, shown in a charming first meeting between two tattooed young people. And the lawyer in Steve Vender's dark Mando tells us that 'tattoos are all about sound.'

Peter Trachtenberg quotes Nietzsche in his witty from 7 Tattoos, a tale of a fascination with tattoos (and Borneo). He comments on the temporary transfiguration that they convey, and their permanence in an American dream that includes the expectation 'that every shady episode in your life can be erased'. I especially enjoyed his reflection on the change from Nathaniel Hawthorne's America so that 'if Hester Prynne were walking around today with a scarlet A on her dress, people would think it stood for Armani.'

Karol Griffin's Zowie is another memorable tale, narrated by a tattooed and abused young woman, who 'bought into the romantic myth of tattoos as a mark of the outlaw.' Madame Chincilla's Herstory celebrates the tattooed woman, who 'rides the waves of her life with difficulty and grace', from prehistory to modern times. In all these pieces, individual's selection of tattoos seem akin to dream symbols. Why did they make those particular choices?

There's something for everyone, tattooed or not, in Dorothy Parker's Elbow. Who would have thought that so much could be revealed under the skin?

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