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Becoming Duchess Goldblatt: A Memoir


Becoming Duchess Goldblatt: A Memoir

It’s a tough world out there for fictional characters. They can be overwritten or underwritten, written in and written out. Their innermost thoughts and desires are, to overwork the poor metaphor, an open book. They can be bended, folded, spindled and mutilated --- and sent out in the sequel to do it all over again.

Fictional characters are, above all, the lawful prey of the author, who is routinely admonished to chase them up trees and throw stones at them. Writers are allowed to do things to fictional characters that would send them to the penitentiary in any other context --- and they get paid for the privilege. Further down the food chain, fictional characters are subject to the rough ministrations of the critics, who are free to misuse, misunderstand or misinterpret them at their leisure, assigning symbolic meaning to them just for fun. And then, of course, there are the readers…and well, you know what they’re like, don’t you.

Duchess Goldblatt, a shining ornament in the vast open sewer of social media, would be the first to tell you that she is a fictional character and heir to their inherent maladies. Although social media is littered with fictional characters --- people pretending to be Batman or Darth Vader or what have you --- Duchess Goldblatt is a social media native, not a refugee from some other format.

"...a quiet, intimate story of a broken person in a broken world, pulling a slender purple thread out of the ragged fabric of her life and using it to weave a glorious tapestry."

As such, the Duchess (she prefers to be addressed as “Your Grace” but doesn’t insist on it) has two attributes that fictional characters usually don't have. First, Duchess Goldblatt is conceptual, which is a function of her medium; 140 characters of absurdist humor sliding by on a shining screen is conceptual to a degree that would make Marcel Duchamp drop his cigar with envy. Second, Duchess Goldblatt is communitarian, which, again, is very suitable to the medium. The Duchess’s fan base is highly inclusive and highly exclusive. Inclusive, in that she will talk to anyone (and will encourage them, which is a rare gift). And exclusive, in that the people she talks with include luminaries like singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett, novelist Celeste Ng, copy editor extraordinaire Benjamin Dreyer, and the brilliant and kind Elizabeth McCracken, who was the first author to encourage the Duchess and promote her to a wider world.

Duchess Goldblatt is an exemplar of what social media can be --- more than an exemplar, because the Duchess is a fount of positivity and universal love in a medium that is almost wholly rife with negativity and hatred. BECOMING DUCHESS GOLDBLATT is the story of how one anonymous writer, struggling with misery and despair, created a synthetic online personality overflowing with compassion and empathy.

If fictional characters survive and thrive in the world, against all odds, they can develop various secondary issues, ranging from creeping irrelevance to sudden annihilation. One of the most common problems is transplantation --- moving a fictional character from a familiar medium to an unfamiliar one. For example, Dr. Seuss’  THE GRINCH translated brilliantly into animated television, but far less well in a live-action movie flop. Translating Duchess Goldblatt from a short-form Twitter account to a long-form memoir carries certain perils. The reader may wonder if the signature Goldblattian wit would be diluted or diminished, the narrative may not have been compelling, the mystery may have been stripped away.

I am here to testify that anyone who was concerned about the Duchess’s foray into memoir has nothing to fear. It would be convenient, and lazy, to say that BECOMING DUCHESS GOLDBLATT is a triumph: marching through the Roman streets, trumpets blaring, crowds screeching, standards held high. But it is something better and purer than a triumph. It is a quiet, intimate story of a broken person in a broken world, pulling a slender purple thread out of the ragged fabric of her life and using it to weave a glorious tapestry.

The theme of brokenness extends, explicitly, to the fragmented structure of the narrative. BECOMING DUCHESS GOLDBLATT expertly dovetails the narrative of the formation and growth of the Duchess character with the travails of her creator’s life. The creation process for the Duchess’s tweets is explained as the result of happy inspiration and, alternatively, as the product of careful editing. (Duchess Goldblatt is large and contains multitudes.) The rise of the Duchess as a phenomenon is, gloriously, built on acts of kindness (principally by Lyle Lovett, who is a mensch without peer) that counterbalance the author’s own traumas.

It is this side of the story that uplifts the book, the closely observed trauma, the intricate details of suffering, the short, spare sentences that sum up the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. Although the author’s tribulations are common enough --- and, as she reminds us, are just part of the universal suffering we all share --- they are described so flawlessly that they resonate, dark music in a minor key.

Fictional characters have it easier than the rest of us in one important way. They suffer, as we do, but their suffering always means something and is always important. For living people who have to fight the war of life, suffering all too often is meaningless, just part of the territory. That the anonymous author of BECOMING DUCHESS GOLDBLATT transmuted some portion of her burden of pain and loss into a beacon of love and light is little short of alchemy. “Long live Duchess Goldblatt,” the book concludes. So say we all.

Reviewed by Curtis Edmonds on July 17, 2020

Becoming Duchess Goldblatt: A Memoir
by Anonymous

  • Publication Date: April 13, 2021
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books
  • ISBN-10: 0358569834
  • ISBN-13: 9780358569831