SHARON TATE AND THE DAUGHTERS OF JOY by David Herrle

reviewed by Gabino Iglesias | Monday, March 3rd, 2014

"Sharon Tate and the Daughters of Joy" by David HerrleTime Being Books, 198 pages, paperback, $12.79

Once in a while, a book of poetry comes along that blurs the lines between academic smarts and pop culture appeal. David Herrle’s Sharon Tate and the Daughters of Joy is one of those books. A collection of interconnected poetry and prose, Sharon Tate and the Daughters of Joy is at once a celebration of language, an exploration of violence, history, art, and femininity, and an impressive collection of pop culture references that appear in new contexts and hitherto unfamiliar associations.

Queen Marie Antoinette, Jack the Ripper victim Marie Jeanette Kelly, and American actress, sex symbol, and Manson Family victim Sharon Tate are the three vehicles Herrle uses to study — and pose questions about — art, sexuality, aesthetics, death, fame, desire, and many other elements. The end result is a book of poems and short stories that is simultaneously self-contained and much larger than its 198 pages.

The level of references, research, and knowledge presented in Sharon Tate and the Daughters of Joy is very much like the impenetrable (at least to the uninitiated) chaos of the very specific writing that appears in academic peer-reviewed journals. However, the way Herrle mixes the intellectual with the popular makes this an entertaining read that is only intimidating when the reader takes a break to consider the scope of the author’s influences.

The above paragraph could sound like an easy way of getting around a discussion of the wide array of historical eras, art forms, occurrences, ideas, and characters that Herrle brings to the table. In a way, it is. However, the only reason for the short overview is that a detailed exposition of all those people, things, and times would require a book as long as the one being discussed here. In case there’s still doubt, here’s a small list of people who up in the text: Søren Kierkegaard, Charles Manson, Frank Lloyd Wright, King Louis XVI, Napoleon, Francis Ford Coppola, Kirsten Dunst, The Beatles, Ken Kesey, Jack the Ripper, Lyle Lovett, Jean-Paul Sartre, Rita Hayworth, and Carl Sagan.

And how exactly does Herrle bring all of these people, places, and times together? Here’s a taste:

“Carl Sagan, if you’re out there cruising the cosmos

in a dandelion seed, put it in high gear and take

a wormhole back to Los Alamos, 1942, just in time

to interrupt the atom bomb’s debut Rapid Rupture.”

Sharon Tate and the Daughters of Joy is like watching academia and history being blown to pieces with a pop culture shotgun. Herrle combines known elements in new forms, turning his prose into the literary version of an M.C. Escher lithograph. This is a witty, wildly imaginative, and very ballsy homage to all things estrogen.

Gabino Iglesias is writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. He’s the author of Gutmouth and a few other things no one will ever read. You can find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.