Birth of Eros
by Debra Di Blasi
Reviewed by Alex Carrigan
The 1950s represented a serious turning point in the 20th century as the world moved away from the second World War and into the ages of nuclear weaponry, the Cold War, and the Baby Boomer generation. The first half of the century was about laying the groundwork for a more interconnected world and one where many of the values and ideals of the past were wiped out or repackaged. This was a decade of births and deaths of many kinds, and one can’t examine it in a linear fashion if they’re to truly understand the impact of the period.
Debra Di Blasi’s latest novel Birth of Eros (KERNPUNKT Press) is a novel set in the early 1950s and is intended to be the first of a tetralogy exploring the creation of destruction. The novel is told from the perspective of Lucy, a child born to two impossibly attractive people. Lucy is born different, with an eye that allows her to see beyond what is in front of her. The novel follows Lucy observing the beginning of her parents’ relationship and her birth, as her parents work as models exploited by a sleazy businessman and pornographer only known as Big Bad Wolf.
Di Blasi’s novel is told in a very fractured, surreal fashion. Every page will either throw the reader outside of the 1950s Los Angeles setting and into nature or put them into the head of one of its characters. They could be reading about the parents making love in the outdoors or reading about a monkey eating another monkey. Lucy’s narration also adds to the bizarre nature of the work. Lucy sees everything, even though she would be too young to remember or be active in any part of the story, but her ability means she is able to view everything from a detached, omniscient perspective which colors her narration. Much of her narration devolves into word play and alliteration, such as on page 84, where Lucy narrates:
Lucy’s narration treats everything around her as something that is specifically designed and arranged to be studied or experienced. When she drifts to other locales to discuss nature or the animal kingdom, it’s because she can see how 1950s America is merely a repackaged form of thousands of years’ worth of birth and death.
Most of the focus of the novel is on how norms and ideals were changing quickly, while others were beginning to slowly take root. Lucy’s father has some initial fame as an underwear model, where he is revered for his imposing manhood, but loses it quickly once conservatives raise a fuss about it. Here we see the beginning of sexualization in the media and advertising, which carries over to the floor shows both her parents work on before they transition to her mother participating in erotic pinup photoshoots. While the time period was about the birth of the nuclear family and returning to morality, it was also a time when perceived degeneracy and sexual freedom were slowly starting to seep into society, where they would eventually burst into the forefront of American society.
But for the most part, Birth of Eros is ultimately about how the American dream and the values of the 1950s can be distorted or rendered hypocritical. Both of Lucy’s parents are solely valued for their good looks and how they can be used to sell products or be used for sexual gratification. Neither parent really shows much character or agency beyond how people like Big Bad Wolf view them, and both are exploited and hurt because they are seen as enviable and unobtainable. There are glimpses of depth to both of them, such as how Lucy’s father seems to take the lead on child rearing for their family, but it’s not until the system tries to truly break them both that they finally make an effort to take back control.
Birth of Eros is a unique examination of an American period of emerging values and the scum under the surface. Di Blasi’s narrative presents a fantastically memorable voice and story about how people were forced to change at the midpoint of the 20th century and what they had to gain and lose to survive. If this is how the first book in Di Blasi’s planned tetralogy goes, then the rest of the series shows tremendous promise in how it will address these cycles of destruction in 20th century American history.
Alex Carrigan (he/him; @carriganak) is an editor, poet, and critic from Virginia. His debut poetry chapbook, May All Our Pain Be Champagne: A Collection of Real Housewives Twitter Poetry (Alien Buddha Press, 2022), was longlisted for Perennial Press' 2022 Chapbook Awards. He has had fiction, poetry, and literary reviews published in Quail Bell Magazine, Lambda Literary Review, Barrelhouse, Sage Cigarettes (Best of the Net Nominee, 2023), 'Stories About Penises' (Guts Publishing, 2019), and more.