Review of Melancholia (An Essay) (Ravenna Press 2012) $10.00, By Kristina Marie Darling
Reviewed by Trista Edwards

Darling compiles an unusual collection and a striking narrative in her essayistic assemblage, Melancholia. The collected works that compose the essay as a whole are made up of definitions, a glossary of terms, footnotes, interjected with the occasional epistolary quip to the speaker’s waning lover. The collection surveys the deterioration of a romantic relationship between the speaker and her beloved, or simply titled in the short letters, Dearest. The three epistles offered gradually escalate in their textual fragmentation as the relationship de-escalates; and in the final letter the absolute destruction of their intimate liaison is captured in one short line:

                              (this letter will burn & burn)

Darling even simply titles these letters to Dearest as “untitled fragment (i), (ii), (iii)” in the contents of her collection to suggest that the very nature of the addresses work within the larger essay but also can exist as their own narrative when read independently.

The first set of definitions arises from the term noctuary, for which the speaker demarcates various meanings: “1. To keep a record of what passes in the night. 2. To wake from a dream—to begin a series of portraits instead”, etc. What also proves interesting about this noctuary, which is different from a traditional diary, is that the uniqueness of the speaker’s record keeping mirrors the distinctive nature of the collection itself. The breakdown of the term is followed by the speaker’s actual nocturnal musings. The couple’s interactions are centered on that of a necklace which eventually breaks and hints towards the final fracture of their union. The noctuary’s first recording even suggests that the union what fruitless from the beginning:

    The brass locket, which contained only an
    empty frame, was the first in a series of
    ominous love tokens that appeared beneath
    her window.

The dearest delivered a locket with an empty frame, because it was the first suggests he will continue to illustrate his vapid love for the speaker in a series of equally insipid tokens. The speaker seems to acknowledge this lack of sincerity in recording that the “homage felt contrived, mechanical” but at the same time “wished the pursuit would continue indefinitely.” The tokens are ominous, like some harbinger of universal melancholy that seems apparent in all romantic relationships, at least at one point or another. Darling’s collection questions, or at the very least illustrates, essential human interactions and why people may pursue or allow certain trite relationships to continue when a looming destruction hovers in the future. In the speaker’s glossary of terms for the history of melancholia, she refers to these love token exchanged during a courtship as items, memories, a personal history that are “inevitably lost in the great avalanche.” What this avalanche exactly consists of remains ambiguous and yet, ironically, ubiquitous to feelings of melancholy—to be buried by a crushing sadness; which the speaker, no doubt, documents in her noctuary.

Darling closes her unorthodox essayistic study in traditional footnote form. The final section titled, “Footnotes to a History of Correspondence” adds perspective to the pervious writings, musings, and the nature, or intentions of, not only of the dearest, but the speaker as well. The speaker annotates in footnote number three that she herself became an active detrimental tool in the decline of that love: “Within each envelope I placed the most / moving elegy. I wanted to see the cold metal / gears turning his cast-iron heart.” There is a certain viciousness in this collection that builds excitement just as much as it conveys melancholy. Like any story of doomed paramours, the love is dramatic, the form is theatrical, and tainted artifacts of a deceased affection remain in the wake to continual haunt the reveries of those involved. Darling invites us to gaze into a fragmented life the romantically bereaved. Whether the speaker and the dearest began their union with skepticism does not seem to matter because all that matters is what remains, fragile memories, broken souvenirs, and the kind of melancholia that settles the heaviest in the night.
Trista Edwards currently attends the University of North Texas where she is working on her Ph.D. in poetry. She graduated from the University of West Georgia in Carrollton, GA with her B.A. (2008) and M.A. (2011) in English Literature. Her poems and reviews have been published in The Journal, 32 Poems, Mid-American Review, and others. She lives in Denton, Texas.

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