Your Name Here: _________ by Cris Mazza

your name here

Content Warning: sexual assault/rape and brief physical violence

In 1995, Coffee House Press published Cris Mazza’s novel Your Name Here: _________. At that point, Mazza had five books of fiction and had edited three anthologies of essays. Today, she has 21 books in publication. Mazza’s work go deep into sexual trauma, “frigidity,” violence, sexual harassment, complicity in violence, and reconstructing memories (often using journals or diaries).

In 2011, my book review of Various Men Who Knew Us as Girls by Mazza was published in The Collagist, and it was the first review I’d had accepted for a journal. In 2013, I approached Mazza to ask if I could use her new memoir, Something Wrong With Her, which is a companion book to Various Men, to organize a book blog tour. I feel a loyalty to Mazza because she let me use her book as a guinea pig for my book blog tour career, but my copy of Your Name Here: _________ was purchased with my own money, thus I will be as honest as possible in my review.

 

Your Name Here: _________ starts in a hospital room in 1980. The narrator has been beaten and is disoriented. We get names and details that don’t quite make sense this early in the narrative. I’m not the kind of reader who likes to get information that doesn’t have context because it guarantees I’ll have to re-read the beginning of the book when I’m frustrated, even though there’s typically not something in the novel that triggers when I should go back and re-read the beginning.

In present day, 1989, the narrator is a TV news reporter in Redding, California. One day, she has a panic attack on air and is dragged off camera. Even though she thought she was over the violence that happened to her in 1980, it’s been festering. Before she was taken to the hospital in 1980, she managed to get all of her journals into a safe-deposit box at a local bank in San Diego, California. Now, she’s going to go get them. It took me some time to realize what was going on because the entire book is written as a journal, so the narrator isn’t always explaining things to the reader that she knows. Mazza slips the information in, but we have to piece it together. I felt a general sense of confusion for about 40 pages, and that’s when I re-read the beginning.

 

In 1979-1980 diary entries, the narrator is a woman named Corinne Staub in San Diego. She’s a college graduate working at a radio station where she’s sometimes a writer and part “go-fer” for the morning show duo, Warren Kyle and Cy Golden. Kyle is a former baseball player with no radio background, but he can do character voices. Golden has been on the air 13 years. Each man is a distinct personality. Mazza clearly makes Kyle a popular yet passive talent, but he won’t help his own career because he wants to keep his partner happy. Golden sexually harasses everyone and works to make sure Kyle’s contract prevents the new DJ from being more powerful or popular than Golden. It’s Mazza’s skill that lets you clearly imagine the DJs’ power-based relationship.

In the 1989 present-day diary entries, Corrine talks about how she changed her name to Erin Haley and modified her appearance at some point in an effort to make herself a stranger to Corrine. After she arrives in San Diego, she hangs out in a hotel for three months going through ten-year-old diaries. During this time, she decides to go back to the the old radio station, where Kyle still works. She doesn’t see him, but she meets a temporary consultant named Garth brought in to help the station’s ratings. Thus begins her sexual affair with him. When she’s alone, she’s reading her old diaries and commenting in a new diary about what she read, her response to the information, and Garth.

Although I was invested in the characters and knowing what really happened to the narrator that landed her in the hospital, there were threads that remained untied. In an effort to make this review as clear as possible, I talked out the plot with my husband. I took me about 20 minutes, and when I was done he called it “convoluted.” The narrator suggests she is bi-sexual throughout the book, but there is no clear motive for this part of the characterization. She implies in her journals that she’s attracted to Kyle and a female DJ both, but the writing isn’t obvious, such as a comment about their behavior or appearances that the narrator finds attractive. She also writes in her 1989 journal that when she was married years ago, she would go comatose when her husband wanted to have sex. After she says she doesn’t know how to orgasm, he asks what has ever turn her on. I was confused about this plot point because the narrator is have sex regularly with Garth in 1989. I wasn’t even sure why Garth was needed in the plot if the point of the narrator’s trip back to San Diego was to read her old journals.

There are numerous little details woven in that make sense at the end of the novel: why the narrator wants to be hit by people, why she thinks she’s a coward, why she’s unaware what’s real and what’s a dream, why she has a panic attack on TV. Mazza masterfully weaves in the nuance and layers of a whole person, making the book more realistic, but because it’s a book, I would get bogged down in the different layers that didn’t make themselves useful to a single focused story. Your Name Here: _________ requires patience, but it didn’t quite pay off in the end.

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20 comments

  1. You review some gritty fiction! Generally even work by new writers which makes it through to publication in Australia is more polished than this seems to be, to be as widely marketable as possible I guess. Good that you were upfront about your previous relationship with Mazza and were still able to write what is obviously an honest review.

    • So much of my fiction has been very sexual lately! I wish it weren’t that way. Some books are surprising me. The synopsis of this book says the narrator things she may have been gang raped, but then there is so much sex happening in the present, too. It got overwhelming in places.

  2. Oh gosh this sounds pretty complicated, too many things going on here. And when authors leave threads untied or unexplained, I think it’s a sign the author themselves bit off more than they could chew!

    • I know these are themes Mazza explores in most, if not all, of her novels. I wonder how her books and stories would be different if each one took on a different aspect of what she wrote about her. The story might lose some layers, but it might also make a bigger punch.

  3. Hmm. The subject matter wouldn’t appeal to me anyway, but I do dislike when books are so convoluted the reader is never quite clear about what’s going in. It’s perfectly possible for a book to be complex without it becoming difficult to follow – take Beloved, for example…

    • I often felt like the person writing the journal was leaving me out of the loop just a little. I do love the collection of letters called Dear Everybody by Michael Kimball. It’s a great fiction book that plays with form.

    • The rule of Chekhov’s Gun comes to mind. If you have a gun on the living room mantle in Act 1, it must be used by the Act 3. There were so many “guns” in this novel that weren’t fired by the end. I appreciate that there are layers to people, but in fiction writers need to pick and choose.

  4. *sigh* I am not someone who likes that moment when I realize I’ll have to re-read the beginning. More often than not, I don’t want to put in the effort to re-read portions of the book to make connections. This is why I love N.K.Jemisin’s works; she writes in such a way where I am confused and disconnected, but I never have to re-read the beginning to make the eventual connections.

    It sounds like Mazza’s novel was unsatisfactory, but not necessarily disappointing. I imagine your familiarity with her other works has also left an impression on you. Do you feel like your experience with her work kept you more engaged or less engaged than those who are not familiar? In my experience it could go either way…

    • Because I’ve read some of her short stories, novels, and nonfiction, and even met Cris Mazza, I have a sense of who she is. From what I can tell, she’s a complex person whose stories swirl around similar or the same topics, such as the inability to enjoy sex, sexual harassment, starting out a placid observer and growing to be braver, etc. “…unsatisfactory, but not necessarily disappointing”–I really like that description. It fits so well, Jackie.

      • I love it when authors leave some piece of themselves in the open with their writing. These are hard topics, but it sounds like Mazza is comfortable sharing her experiences. Even if indirectly. I don’t know if I’ll ever read her works, but I definitely respect them based on this small interaction.

  5. Sorry this one was a bit of a let down, especially since it sounds like you’ve enjoyed 2 of Mazza’s other works and seem to have made a connection with her.

    I am also not a fan when I have to go back and re-read portions of a book to make sense of the story… to me, it’s the author’s job to get the point across the first time.

    It sounds like this one was a bit jumbled which made it hard to make connections between plot points. I am not a very patient person, so it doesn’t sound like I would do well with this one either lol

    • I’m patient if it all works out, but it didn’t feel like this one all came together. I have two other books by her, Dog People, which is a novel, and Chick-Lit, which is a essays about women writers and post-modernism. Her use of “chick-lit” predates publishers using it as a tool to sell fiction to women–and it doesn’t mean the same thing anymore, either. Dog People has me intrigued. Mazza used to show (and I think breed?) dogs professionally.

  6. Great review! I don’t think this is a book that I’ll be picking up, but I am intrigued about how/why the author decided to set the 1989 scenes in Redding, California. Is she from that area? I’m curious – I have family that lives in Redding, and I have never, ever imagined that city as the setting of a novel! 🙂

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