Reviewed by Miles Beller
Gilda Frantz is a Jungian analyst. She is smart. She is wise. She is clever. She is charismatic. And, yes, she is delightful.
That she is my friend has little bearing on any of this. Truth is, these truths are inarguable, sure facts as certain as May following April and that up is the opposite of down. One would sooner win an argument disputing direction of the Earth's rotation or how many commandants those original tablets held than be foolish enough to question Gilda’s qualities. I am quite certain had Cole Porter known Gilda Frantz, he surely would have included her in "You're the Top."
But this is a book review I've been told, a book review in a Jungian journal that ought to address the interests of Dr. Jung's latter-day disciples. Well, that's all well and good. However, Gilda Frantz is too fine a writer to measure by any one singular yardstick, by any one predetermined standard of a solitary scientific pursuit. Consequently, there will be no juggling of Jungian argot or terminology in this review, no inside baseball references to shadows and self and the unconscious that gets collected. These considerations are best left to assaying textbook collaborations or the output of academic apparatchiks. You see, Ms. Frantz is first and foremost a writer, a writer who sets down words with precision and purpose and in a way that radiates poetry’s shine. "Loneliness is a preparation, not just a separation," Ms. Frantz tells us on page 56 in the article “On the Meaning of Loneliness.” Can it be said any more precisely, any more finely?
Ms. Frantz never lets content override the craft of writing, never allows jargon to jostle the transcendent interplay of words. The girl can't help it. As Ms. Frantz shows us, to write well is to set things down with an innate sensitivity to what you are experiencing and expressing, to intrinsically know how to arrange words, how to place them in a certain order so they speak with authority, grace, conviction, and courage. Gilda Frantz is keenly aware that to write well is to know this world and the one inside of you intimately and truly, and yet be able to embrace the very opposite of what you know at a moment's calling. She knows, too, that good writing can contradict itself, be uncertain, be everywhere at once, that good writing sometimes is quiet, faraway, and distant. Her writing underscores that no rules, no codebook get you there. You do it by yourself for yourself, alone and away from those things you buy or consume. What satisfaction there is comes after stepping away from the writing, and even this is fleeting, transitory.
Gilda Frantz makes manifest the certainty that good writing is an end in itself, a way of seeing by explaining and explaining by seeing. Things are turned around, upside down, run in reverse. But the writer is never really aware of doing any of this. Gertrude Stein put it this way: that the only moment that matters in writing is the pen striking the paper. What happens before and after does not count. Gilda Frantz knows all this by heart because it is in her heart. She comes by it naturally, writing well intrinsic to who she is.
Graduate programs will tell you that given enough money and time these things can be acquired, not unlike learning to ride a bicycle or getting the knack of typing quickly. But they cannot. No amount of study or repeated application can teach you to write well. These things come from everything you have been through and from things you are not even aware of. Drills or exercise, appropriation or subordination, as Gilda Frantz knows, cannot instill these things. Hemingway said good writing is not interior design but architecture. Gilda Frantz builds what she writes with an inner understanding, a natural affinity for what is inherently true. "Agelessness is the ability to live with passion until the moment we die," Ms. Frantz tells us on page 164 of “Being Ageless: The Very Soul of Beauty,” and two pages later she adds, "Agelessness involves living with the awareness of death as a natural sweetener of life." Again, the architecture of these observations is acuity of thought compressed into an expansive arc of highlights and penumbras. The tensor strength of the ideas comes from few words that pack much. Reading Gilda Frantz, we are reminded that when you write well, it is as if you are there but not there, are letting other forces also determine the course. Mastery and escape, T. S. Elliot said of what it takes to break free from the gravitational pull of influence and accommodation, of the writer’s will to ask new questions rather than proffer old answers.
Reading Gilda Frantz is to experience this, to turn off that big, crowded highway onto new roads of expectation and creation. You cannot follow a street map to arrive at good writing, cannot strategize your way to rendering something that will last after you are gone. Impulse, intuition, happy accidents, and keeping open and aware get you there, or at the very least point you in a promising direction.
If you haven’t gotten the idea by now, let me be blunt. Gilda Frantz's Sea Glass is a multifaceted collection of writing refracting language and life in a new and sustaining way. It is kaleidoscopic and it is prismatic, giving off a deep spectrum of brightness, reflecting a multitude of angles and inquiries. Unquestionably it deserves an honored berth on the psychology of self. Yet it is writing that transcends classification or genre, writing that offers abiding bounty to the reader of the literary memoir and the personal essay. It is writing you can come back to and find something new every time.
Gilda Frantz has a writer's soul, telling us things in such a way that we see them for ourselves. William Faulkner was once asked by a student about the secret to writing well. Go home and write, the Nobel laureate offered. Through the years Gilda Frantz has made evident this impeccable advice. When I read her, I am in the care of a serious and skilled writer. "The flame is fate," Ms. Frantz informs us on page 31, after a passage concerning alchemy. Instantly the point ignites, recognition's immediate light bursting bright.
There are no shortcuts to writing well, no cutting of corners, no wham-bam tricks to dazzle and amaze. No Houdinis slip out of shackles to command kudos and currency. Time ticks on and what is lasting and true survives, speaking to us now as forcefully as it did when first made. As Gilda Frantz makes clear in her first collection, writing well is a life sentence. It is intimately tied to who you are, this in concert with an inborn instinct for words and how best to assemble them. In “Being Ageless: The Very Soul of Beauty,” the author avows, "When we are old our skin becomes more transparent, and so must we" (p. 179). How I wish I had written that.
As is true of Ms. Frantz's writing, I'm going to keep this trim and vigorous. Just how gifted a writer is Gilda Frantz? Let me count the ways. She is nimble and she is resourceful, able to leap complex subjects in an artful bound. She is challenging and she is reflective, surprising, enlivening, elevating, and captivating. Gilda Frantz is self-aware and yet ever searching, knowing yet able to embrace opposites. There are many things I could say about Gilda Frantz and her book, Sea Glass. However, the essential is this: Sea Glass is accomplished literature, delivering an author at the height of her powers, a Jungian analyst who knows her stuff but above all else is a writer of enduring vision and feeling.
About the reviewer
Miles Beller is an editorial board member of Psychological Perspectives and has written for The New York Times, Harper’s Bazaar, and Life magazine. Beller was appointed the Joan Nordell Fellow at Harvard University's Houghton Library while a Scholar in Residence at Cabot House. His novel Dream of Venus (Or Living Pictures), set in the 1939 New York World's Fair, was recommended by Publisher's Weekly as "challenging the distinction between fiction and fact," and Book Magazine called it “a risky and ingenious experiment that makes the novel like the fairgrounds."