In April 1988, Valerie Solanas—the writer, radical feminist, author of the SCUM Manifesto and would-be assassin of Andy Warhol—was discovered dead at fifty-two in her hotel room in San Francisco, alone, penniless, and surrounded by the pages of her last writings. In Valerie, a nameless narrator revisits the room where Solanas died, the courtroom where she was tried and convicted of attempting to murder Andy Warhol, the mental hospitals where she was shut away. Through imagined conversations and monologues, reminiscences and rantings, the book conjures the life, mind, and art of the enigmatic Valerie. A leading feminist in Sweden and one of the most acclaimed writers in Scandinavia, Sara Stridsberg blurs the boundaries between history and fiction, self-making and storytelling, madness and art.
A. A heart full of black flies. The loneliness of a desert. Landscape of stones. Cowboys. Wild mustangs. An alphabet of bad experiences.
B. Blue smoke on the mountains. I am the only sane one here. There were no real cowboys. There were no real pictures. I vacuumed all the rooms; the dust was still there. I cleaned all the windows; I still could not breathe. It had something to do with the construction. The sun burned through the umbrellas.
C. The American film. The camera’s lies. World literature’s. America was a big adventure with its unreal blue mountains, its desert landscape.
America was a big adventure with its unreal blue mountains, its desert landscape.
D. They were filming in the desert. Wild horses chased by helicopters. She never understood what was in the script; she could never remember her lines. They were always covered by something plastic. Men had a tendency to be sucked into her mother. Men are happy in my company. It does not mean that I am happy.
E. I, a Man and Bike Boy by Andy Warhol. The story of the dissident, of frontier language, of the scream, of suicide. All these compelling mutations and machinations, without being regarded in retrospect as a tragic fate. She vented her heart between the high-rise blocks. Death’s field was hers.
F. There should be a story set in the desert. There was no electricity. There were no telephone lines. How might the story be told? There would be endless dead blondes.
G. Stories. Overdoses. Sleeping tablets. Everything reaches its end.
H. Dead trees. Dead stories. Hold your horses. You must hold your horses, darling.
I. Valerie. Marilyn. Roslyn. Ulrike. Sylvia. Dorothy. Cosmogirl. A kind of insane genius. She has lost her marbles. That means we will wipe out her memories. Electroshock, injections, straitjackets, Elmhurst.
J. Remember, I am ill and I am waiting to die. Remember, I am the only sane woman here. Remember, he took my plays and killed them. They were already dead, miss. My plays were not dead. Your plays were already dead, miss. I want it added to the record of proceedings that he has killed my plays. What record, miss?
K. They had waited for hours. The harsh light over the set. That little white polka-dot dress. It was quite epic, timeless. I could have told you from the start how it would end. It could have had a different ending. There are other narrators. There are happy endings.
L. Experiments. Horses. Sunset.
M. I think you are the saddest girl I have ever met. There are no paths in the dark. There is nothing to tell. I cannot tell you how sad I am. I cannot talk about it. It is not possible to think outside your thoughts.
N. The compulsive calling forth of fragments of text and body tissue. Pain’s sickness. Defense and defeat. Smiles and tears. The blues. Trying to relate to the matter then was like relating to fresh snow on an August day in New York.
O. If we called the text The Snow, it would not be censored. It could happily be sentimental and dirty. That was actually an ideal. What was the point? There were only filthy texts. What was the point? There were only filthy girls. Unclean, overblown, much too rhythmic. I dreamed of spotless white paper and clean unblemished people.
P. The story’s flight response. A demonstration of pain. The sentences are blank. Rhetorical clumsiness. Contagious universes.
Q. Everyone else in the world would have loved me by now. Take everything from me, do it, that’s what I want. When I have got what I want, I never want it again. How many times can my heart break? I am the only one here without a soul. I could have told you from the start how it would end. Take everything from me, do it, that’s what I want.
What does it matter if the narrator lies? What does it matter who tells the story?
R. I write for the dead. What does it matter if everyone is dead?
S. She keeps on being dead. She will always be dead. She is the only one I think about. A lie. All I want is to be with her. Rubbish. What does it matter if the narrator lies? What does it matter who tells the story?
T. Black-clad female grasshoppers and screaming fetuses. You cannot write yourself out of patriarchy. You cannot film yourself out. You stand in a desert, alone, frightened, weeping. You cannot think outside your thoughts. It is not the character’s structure. Massive hegemony. The death of languages in exile.
U. Daddy’s Girls unite. Isn’t that American white-trash girl far too violent and naïve? You mean that dreadful woman with the manifesto, shrilling hysterically? What is she trying to say anyway? No, I really cannot hear what she is trying to say in that deep, animal voice.
V. She is saying: I dream that you will never stop searching for me.
W. How will I find my way back in the dark?
X. Darkness. Silence. The desert does not reply.
Y. She says: Follow the star. The lost highway.
Z. Follow it to the end.
Sara Stridsberg is an internationally acclaimed writer and playwright. Her fiction and nonfiction books have been translated into more than twenty languages. A former member of the Swedish Academy, she is a leading feminist and artist in her native Sweden and around the world. Valerie is her first book to be published in the US.
Deborah Bragan-Turner has a degree in Scandinavian languages from the University College London. She translates Swedish literature, particularly literary fiction and biographies.