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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Valerie

or, The Faculty of Dreams: A Novel

Sara Stridsberg; Translated from the Swedish by Deborah Bragan-Turner

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK

NEW YORK MAGAZINE, APRIL 25, 1991


The day Dorothy is interviewed by New York magazine over a bad telephone line the sky above Ventor is the same pink as a sleeping tablet or old vomit. No one ever comes to fix the lines in Ventor anymore; desert birds have eaten the withered black wires, distorting conversations and laughing at Dorothy and the way she persists in her role as the victim of unfortunate circumstances. Her words flutter like wrapping paper in the wind.

NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Dorothy Moran?

DOROTHY: Yes.

NEW YORK MAGAZINE: We’d like to talk to you about Valerie.

DOROTHY: Yes.

NEW YORK MAGAZINE: It’s three years today since she died.

DOROTHY: I know.

NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Tell us about Valerie.

DOROTHY: Valerie…?

NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Your daughter. Valerie Solanas.

DOROTHY: Thank you, I know who Valerie is.

NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Tell us something …

DOROTHY: Valerie …

NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Why did she shoot Andy Warhol? Was she a prostitute all her life? Did she always hate men? Do you hate men? Are you a prostitute? Tell us how she died. Tell us about her childhood.

DOROTHY: I don’t know … We lived here in Ventor. I don’t know … the desert. I don’t know … I burned all her things after she died … papers, notebooks …

(Silence.)

NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Anything else?

(Silence.)

DOROTHY: Valerie … used to write … fancied herself as a writer … I think she had t-t-talent … she had talent … She had a fantastic sense of humor … (laughs). Everybody loved her … (laughs again). I loved her … She died in 1988 … April 25 … She was happy, I think … That’s all I have to say about Valerie … She was dedicated, reaching for the sky, the way I see it … I guess that’s how it was …

NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Was she mentally ill? People say she was in and out of mental hospitals throughout the seventies.

DOROTHY: Valerie was not mentally ill. She even lived with a man for a few years. In Florida. On the beach. Alligator Reef. In the fifties.

NEW YORK MAGAZINE: There is evidence she was in Elmhurst Psychiatric Hospital. We know she was in Bellevue. We have reports she spent time in South Florida State Hospital.

DOROTHY: That’s not right. Valerie was never mentally ill. Valerie was a genius. She was an angry little girl. My angry little girl. Never mentally ill. She had some strange experiences with strange men in strange cars. And once she pissed in a nasty boy’s juice. She was a writer. You can write that down … I’m hanging up now …

NEW YORK MAGAZINE: It’s alleged that she was subjected to sexual assault by her father. Did you know about that?

DOROTHY: I’m hanging up now … Put down that she was a writer … Put that she was a research psychologist … Put that love is eternal, not death …

(Call ended—)


BRISTOL HOTEL, 56 MASON STREET, THE TENDERLOIN, SAN FRANCISCO, APRIL 25, 1988, THE DAY OF YOUR DEATH


The blood flows so slowly through your body. You claw at your breasts, weep and cry out, fumble with the bedding. The hotel sheets are dirty, gray with age, and foul-smelling, urine and vomit and vaginal blood and tears, a golden cloud of pain floating through your mind and gut. Blinding streaks of light in the room, explosions of agony in your skin and lungs, pitching, plunging, blazing. Heat in your arms, fever, abandonment, the stench of dying. Slivers and shards of light still flickering; your hands searching for Dorothy. I hate myself but I do not want to die. I do not want to disappear. I want to go back. I long for someone’s hands, my mother’s hands, a girl’s arms. Or a voice of any kind. Anything but this eclipse of the sun.

Dorothy?

Dorothy?

The desperate screeching of desert animals. The sun burning over Georgia. The desert house with no pictures, books, money, or plans for the future. The swollen pink Ventor sky pressing against the window and everything again overlaid with a mantle of merriment, warm, moist. Dorothy has found some singed old dresses in a suitcase and you are probably on your way to the ocean again, to Alligator Reef and endless skies, just the two of you. She twirls in front of the mirror with cigarettes left burning all over the room. In plant pots, on the bedside table, in her compact.

VALERIE (chuckles affectionately): You little pyromaniac.

DOROTHY: All these dresses have black marks on the cuffs. Look at this snowy white one. It looks as though it’s been through a nuclear war.

VALERIE: You always were kind of like a nuclear war.

DOROTHY: It’s strange how you can forget one of your favorite dresses. I can’t remember where it came from. I just remember how everything around me was made completely white and scrubbed clean when I was wearing it. The sky, my breath, my teeth … Do you remember when I forgot all the candles in the bar and the curtains caught fire?

VALERIE: I remember you setting fire to that old guy’s beard when you were lighting his pipe.

DOROTHY: Do you remember when I set fire to my hair?

VALERIE: You were always doing it and I was always running for water to save you. I remember forever saving you.

DOROTHY: You did.

The glint of skyscrapers and tarmac in the darkness as the airplane continues its circling over Kennedy Airport; factories working, surfers gliding along beaches, fields of cotton, deserts, towns, New York traffic edging slowly forward. Splinters of light and memories glimmering faintly in your consciousness. The dark red-light district outside, neon lights, girls chasing the wind through the streets, skin and sparks of life, seductive smiles and puked-up dreams.

And if you did not have to die, you would be Valerie again in your silver coat and Valerie again with your handbag full of manuscripts and your building blocks of theory. And if you did not have to die now, your doctorate would shimmer on the horizon. And it would be that time again, the forties, fifties, sixties, Ventor, Maryland, New York, and that belief in yourself: the writer, the scientist, me. The great hunger and swirling vortex in your heart, the conviction. Slogans echoing between the buildings on Fifth Avenue and the president crouching behind his desk in Washington. There are only happy endings.


Copyright © 2006 by Sara Stridsberg

Translation copyright © 2019 by Deborah Bragan-Turner