Dreaming Of Hitler

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Overview

“Lush and uncensored” essays (Village Voice) on spanking during sex, shopping, Martin Scorcese, Israel, breast reduction, Gary Gilmore, depression, and other matters, by “one of the few contemporary essayists who have (and deserve) a following” (New York). “Everything Daphne Merkin writes is so smart, it shines” (Washington Post Book World).

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Editorial Reviews

Peter Kurth

What's eating Daphne Merkin? The question has some twisted implications given that Merkin's favorite topic is sex -- specifically, her own libido, and more broadly, what she herself calls "the tired conventions of heterosexuality and its reflexive power plays -- it's Hegelian divisions of dominance and submission."

Merkin, of course, is the woman who caused such a rumpus last year by confessing her desire to be spanked in the pages of the New Yorker. If these collected essays are any indication, her quest for self-abasement didn't end or begin with a check from Tina Brown. In Dreaming of Hitler we read about Merkin's ongoing battle with depression; her "decades of therapy"; her difficult relations with her Orthodox Jewish parents (and especially with her "cruel," "mercurial," "withholding" mother); her yearning for thinness; her polycystic ovaries; her breast-reduction surgery; and what she regards as her "deviant" temptation to swipe trinkets from the shelves whenever she shops on the Upper East Side (which she does quite a lot, by the sound of it).

Indeed, "The Shoplifter's High," her essay on Manhattanite-female pinching trends, shows Merkin at her best and her worst -- her best because she is never less than insightful, intelligent, wryly composed and highly literate when she writes on any subject; her worst because she is apparently incapable of writing about anything without steering the subject back to herself. Merkin isn't the kind of writer who simply brings a strong personality to bear on her material, or who views a particular topic through the lens of her own perceptions. She actually defines the world and all its inhabitants through her own experience, and she takes herself very seriously indeed, whether she's writing about Adolf Hitler or Norman Mailer or raising children or buying dildos. "I stood there and gaped," Merkin recalls, "not knowing where to begin, other than with the conviction slowly forming in my mind that the problem of penetration -- the wish to be filled with something hard and penislike and not-female -- would not go away, even for lesbians."

Alas, Merkin writes about sex with a tightness so controlled it eliminates any trace of eroticism. She's a straight man's dream girl, all objects and ground rules, scenarios and "roles." As a divorced woman, a single parent, a lapsed Jew and a would-be sexual renegade, Merkin is "in the habit of ambling through the world, lonely as a Wordsworthian cloud," as she puts it, "in search of company to pass the hours" when she isn't "staring at a blank piece of paper" or worrying about her tan. Non-Jews would do well not to laugh at her childhood dream that she once talked Hitler out of murdering her people, but gay men have a right to be offended by her discussion of AIDS as "a PC illness." And after reading her essay, "On Not Becoming a Lesbian," lesbians everywhere will be grateful she failed the test. -- Salon

Elle
Daphne Merkin is a writer who is unafraid to confront the dark night of her own exacting, inquisitive soul.
New York Magazine
One of the few contemporary essayists who have (and deserve) a following.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In these idiosyncratic essays, Merkin (Enchantment) muses about sex, marriage, pregnancy, divorce, books, writers, celebrities, breast reduction, diets and other disparate topics. Some of her opinionated essays, such as fantasies about spanking during sex and an apology for upper-class women's shoplifting impulses, border on the trivial. Nevertheless, many of the pieces are trenchant. There is a thought-provoking assessment of Claire Booth's Leaving the Doll's House, an affectionate reminiscence of Diana Trilling and a perceptive description of Martin Scorsese's directorial methods on the set of The Age of Innocence. Merkin is at her best in a section titled "In My Tribe," where she includes candid impressions of modern Israel, an attempt to discover the meaning of the biblical Song of Songs and thoughts on the Book of Ecclesiastes, which calls up childhood memories of Succot in her family's Orthodox household. The poignant title piece, revolving around her adolescent dream of meeting Hitler and trying to convince him that he really doesn't hate the Jews, is especially moving. The essays were originally published in the New Yorker, the New York Times Book Review and other journals. (June)
Library Journal
"If there is any overriding theme to this collection, I would say that it is one of exposure, pulling or coaxing out of the closet some of the many skeletons we habitually shove inside it." From confessing to the sexual pleasures of spanking ("Spanking: A Romance") to probing Jewish self-loathing in the shadow of the Holocaust ("Dreaming of Hitler: A Memoir of Self-Hatred"), essayist and novelist Merkin (Enchantment, LJ 8/96) dares to ferret out "what's going on under the [polite] surface." These reviews, profiles, and articles, previously published in such publications as The New Yorker, Tikkun, and Allure, are provocative in their subject matter, witty and graceful in their prose style. Great fun to read, they are also insightful and thought-provoking. There are a few misses here (the fluff piece on Donna Karan), but these are more than compensated by such stimulating essays as "A Complicated Friendship: Remembering Diana Trilling." Highly recommended for all collections.Wilda Williams, "Library Journal"
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780156006118
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 1/29/1999
  • Edition description: First Harvest Edition
  • Pages: 388
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.86 (d)

Table of Contents

A Note to the Reader
On Not Becoming a Lesbian 3
Now, Voyeur: The Erotic Life of Movies 15
Extramarital Cravings 26
A Taste of the Stick: Joel and Hedda, 1988 37
Desperately Seeking Torture: S&M on the Internet 43
Spanking: A Romance 49
Coda 66
Ready, Willing, and Wary 73
Secrets of a Pregnant Woman 77
The Knight in Shining Armani 86
My Kingdom for a Scarf 90
A Complicated Friendship: Remembering Diana Trilling 94
On Not Attending My College Reunion 101
Notes of a Lonely White Woman 106
Dancing with My Daughter 115
In the Country of Divorce 118
O Whither Has Thou Led Me, Egypt? - The Fate of Richard Burton 131
How Dreary to Be Nobody 138
Clean Streets: Martin Scorsese Among the Gentry 153
Mailer at Sea: The Writer as Director 169
In Search of Adam Duritz 178
Postscript 193
Acting the Victim: Claire Bloom vs. Philip Roth 195
These Unhappy Breasts 205
The Pursuit of Thin 213
Donna Karan's World 222
Am I Tan Enough? 229
The Shoplifter's High 239
The Talking Cure Blues 251
A Family and a Fortune: Sallie Bingham's Revenge 260
When She Was Bad: Anne Sexton at Home 270
The Fall of the House of Gilmore 282
Jerusalem, Under a Low Sky 297
The Last Yom Kippur of Yaakov Riegler 314
Ecclesiastes: A Depressive's Lament 319
Enter the Shulamite: How Sexy Is the Song of Songs? 331
Dreaming of Hitler: A Memoir of Self-Hatred 346
Publication Credits 365
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