Becoming Duchess Goldblatt
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
As the cruel people who hate for its own sake take up so much attention, it is a balm to see evidence that not everyone is like that, and that kind-hearted people are still here.
The woman behind the online persona of Duchess Goldblatt is such a kind-hearted person. In her new memoir, Becoming Duchess Goldblatt, the anonymous author recounts when her marriage fell apart, her world did as well. Although it was hard for her to not give up, she looked outward instead of inward, adopted a friend's drag queen name came up while talking with another friend about the possibility of lurking on social media, and ended up creating something of value to many people.
That she didn't do it on purpose makes the evolution of what has happened all the better.
Duchess Goldblatt is a famous and esteemed writer in her early 80s. Born in Texas, she now lives in Crooked Path, which is somewhere in New York state. Her portrait so closely resembles that of a painting from 1633, Portrait of an Elderly Lady by Frans Hals, that they might as well be the same. Her renowned work includes An Axe to Grind, Feasting on the Carcasses of My Enemies: A Love Story and Not If I Kill You First, showing there is spice as well as sugar in the persona.
That Duchess is a persona and not the author is a point that Anonymous makes explicit throughout the memoir, albeit an epiphany in the narrative. The fiction of the life of Duchess, her holidays, the ups and down of Crooked Path, the occasional visits to her daughter, Hacienda, who is in a comfortable Mexican prison for life for reasons not fully spelled out -- it could all be extracted from the Duchess Goldblatt Twitter feed and turned into a fictional narrative. Indeed, it could be quite the epic saga.
But that's not the complete Duchess Goldblatt story. The tweets are part whimsy, part surreal, part wisdom, and the ones quoted in the book fit well with what is happening in the author's ongoing journey. And then there are the admissions, to wit:
People often ask me how a fictional being made of spun sugar and justice can overcome life-threatening paper cuts. Simple: It's magic.
It's the wit and the kindness that have drawn people to the Duchess, as when she tells someone:
The world is broken, but you are not broken. Things may not be okay, but you're okay, and you will be. I promise.
As people began to follow the Twitter feed, they began chatting with each other as well, forming a community. They have sent things to the person behind Duchess as well as to Duchess herself, calling her Your Grace even though she is not a member of typical nobility. Some of her admirers send gifts; the author asks real-life friends to receive the goodies for a few months at a time. Best of all, the community shows the best in others. Like some of her famous friends, especially Lyle Lovett, Benjamin Dreyer and Celeste Ng.
The memoir ends with the author in a much better place than when she created Duchess, ready and willing to go on in the real world and the virtual one. It's a tale well told.
©2020 Lynne Perednia