Sue Sinclair captures quite nicely her experience of reading Sara Peters' debut 1996.
I admire Peters’ skill in juxtaposing sweetness and innocence with abandonment and cruelty. Such stark contrasts could easily have been heavy-handed or melodramatic, but Peters has an eye for the particular, which allows her to create images of distinctively creepy beauty. There’s the green net bag of oranges in the poem in which two sisters act out being raped; there’s the wind blowing fresh and sweet as an apple while a child vivisects a gopher. And I can’t get out of my head the image of tiny gold fawns that jerk and shudder as they dangle from the ears of the mother-abuser in a poem that addresses the real-life murder of a four-year-old. The earrings are partly a display of power in miniature, tiny hunting trophies. But as an element of the mother’s dress, they also reflect her: I find myself wondering about how vulnerable she has felt, and about the strange bond that can exist between abuser and abused. The beauty of the image is disturbing in its evocation of the child’s helplessness and suffering. Every time I think of the gold fawns, the beauty of the image gives me a certain uplift, one that I reject in the same moment. But the spark of pleasure I feel is inextinguishable—I feel it every time—and it makes me complicit in the crime even as I’m overwhelmed by compassion. Such is often my feeling as I read these poems. I’m no fan of delving into disturbing experiences for a thrill, but Peters is instead (or also?) asking readers to confront the complex intertwining of innocence and cruelty, compassion and complicity in each of us.