Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mistress Shakespeare by Karen Harper, read by Anne Flosnik

Say what you will about disco, that era of platforms, polyester and perspiration will always have a home in my heart. It is only fitting to pay props to a time and trend that ushered a passel of me-generation kids toward the gates of maturity.

After a childhood of mastering the funky exuberance of dances like the Football and the Four Corners, performed en masse but essentially solo, who, of a certain age, can forget the awe or dismiss the significance of conquering The Hustle--that partner dance par excellence? Who among us can escape the goosebumps and wistful tears that accompany memories of The One, that Hustle partner whose steps mirrored, complemented, challenged and ultimately transformed our own?

It's an alchemy to which we're born, and toward which we strive and struggle lifelong, in which ones become two, and in a near sacred moment of synch, two becomes a new one. If you were not a disco baby, there's no need to fret. For though rooted in the particular, and anchored in time, the magic of matched, married and transcended parts is universal in scope and incidence.

It is disco, then, that helps me appreciate the intriguingly crafted historical romance of Mistress Shakespeare. The story of a lifelong love, indeed an additional wife and passionate intellectual counterpart who rivals William Shakespeare's conventional mate would be an interesting enough tale, quite suitable for those fond of the Bard and the Elizabethan period. What elevates it, for me, beyond genre is the riveting performance aspect of the audio format and the timeless appeal of the central motif. Anne Whateley's character is made large by the lilt and pluck of the reader's voice. We hear and feel her attraction, her insecurity, misgivings, bliss, determination, skill, strength, ardor, and finally wisdom.The larger Anne becomes, the greater grows the impact of her clash and communion with Will Shakespeare. The greater the alchemy of lovers joined, the grander the glow and vicarious exhilaration for listener.

The story contains many quotes from Shakespeare's plays and sonnets; it's undeniably delightful to hear and replay them. But my favorite passage is from the author's own pen; it describes a moment of abandon and harbinger of alchemy.

I met and matched him move for move and caress for caress, our public place in the street be damned.

Heedless? Crass? Needful? Blessed? As with Will and Anne's relationship, many judge, but we must each decide in our own moment.

Who knows whether it is good fortune or cruel fate that leads us to find, or re-find, The One. A lifetime's puzzle, for sure, but along the way, at least there's the joy of listening to the story of love. Meet Mistress Shakespeare at VBPL.

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