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Lament for Julia

Lament for Julia

by Susan Taubes, introduction by Francesca Wade

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The July 2023 selection of the NYRB Classics Book Club

Susan Taubes’s novella “Lament for Julia” is the story of a young woman coming of age in the twentieth century as seen through the eyes of a sexless spirit who supposes himself to be charged with her oversight.

What is this spirit? An operator from on high (though hardly holy), a narrative I, and a guiding presence that is more than a bit of a voyeur, who remains entirely unknown to Julia herself. About her, the spirit knows both a good deal and very little, since Julia’s emotional and physical and sexual being are all baffling, if also fascinating, to an entity that is pure mind.

The I and Julia are a mismatched couple, set up for failure from the start, it seems, even if they do somehow manage to deal in their different ways with childhood and Mother and Father Klopps and ugly pink outfits and dances and crushes for a while. After which come love and marriage, not necessarily in that order, at which point things really start to go wrong.

Unpublished during Taubes’s lifetime, “Lament for Julia” appears here with a selection of her stories. A brilliant metaphorical exploration of a woman’s double consciousness that is also a masterpiece of the grotesque, it is a novel like no other, a book, as Samuel Beckett wrote to his French publisher, “full of erotic touches of an emphatic sort [and] raw language,” the product of an “authentic talent,” adding, “I shall reread it.”

Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 9781681376943
Pages: 240
Publication Date:


The short stories that follow Lament for Julia in this new edition all have a folkloric twist to them. They are preoccupied by the uses and abuses of love and feature tyrannical psychoanalyst fathers who use their knowledge not as a force for liberation and understanding, but to overpower and constrain. Familial and national history press up against one another; fathers and doubles multiply. Taubes’s family history reads like a parable–of institutional paternal power run amok – and she uses fiction (which her father regarded as a sickness) to recover a more accommodating kind of faith and way of being in the world.”
—Jess Cotton, TLS

“Lament for Julia” devises a feminist metaphysics, or, as the [narrator] puts it with comic incredulity, a portrait of ‘the elements of being in a skirt!’...The great accomplishment of “Lament for Julia” is how imperceptibly it draws the fine filaments of sympathy between the [narrator] and Julia—the anguished control with which consciousness is harnessed to flesh.
—Merve Emre, The New Yorker

[Lament] is a parable, and it has an existential dimension, but it’s anything but dry. What makes it powerful—what makes Taubes’s whole body of work powerful—isn’t the ideas, though you can lose yourself in them, but the affect. Lament’s gnosticism channels radical discomfort. The ghost’s clammy unease with the flesh-and-blood Julia has the feel of body dysmorphia.
—Judith Shulevitz, The Atlantic

To read Taubes is to enter a singular imagination, caught between worlds Old and New, and wandering amid the ruins of belief and belonging that are common to both. It’s tempting to consider “Lament for Julia” as the author’s first, very oblique stab at an autobiography, before the more overtly personal “Divorcing.” But this book is more parody than memoir, reveling in the inevitable divisions and conflicts of selfhood.
—Leslie Camihi, The New York Times

Taubes has a fierce imagination and perspective. . . . [Her writing] is often very funny, always alive, bursting with ideas, full of formal vitality and change.
—Scott Cheshire, The Washington Post

[Taubes] shapes pain into something intricate and searching.
—Leslie Jamison, The New York Review of Books

Tantalizing and surprising. . . . A dark beauty reigns throughout this worthy collection.
Publishers Weekly

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