Only When I Laugh
Discussing this collection of essays, the awards committee states, "As
Elouise Bell explains it: 'The title of this collection . . . comes
. . . from the old story about a man who had been run through with a
large spear. When asked if it hurt terribly, he replied, "only when I
laugh." Sometimes it hurts whether we laugh or not.' Reading these
essays, I wept, I wailed, I gnashed my teeth. But mostly I laughed.
"For many years, Elouise Bell has explored the range of the personal
essay, trying it on like a body-suit, finding where it bends, where it
stretches, where it fits best, where it's a bit loose and wrinkled.
most of these trials have been undertaken for Network magazine. To
it, for its deadlines, we owe an immense debt of gratitude; without
them, the tongue of this Bell might never have rung so many changes on
"And such changes! There is the voice of "When Nice Ain't so Nice"
warning us of the danger to our society of suppressing our feelings,
especially anger. There is the backward unmasking of our Sunday
rituals in "The Meeting," loosing a friction of nervous laughter that
scrubs away the local anaesthetic which lest us sleep through
Sacrament (and other meetings). There is the clever update of
one-upmanship in "Power Ploys" lingering like a message on an
answering machine, to remind us each time we take it up how phony are
our pretensions. (And a reminder in "Three for the Holidays" of how
empty our post-tensions are.)
"In all these essays--wry, funny, sly, outrageous, clever, witty,
dry-eyed, in memoriam--Elouise Bell releases the tensions that we all
feel, sometimes with gales of raucous laughter, sometimes with
punctures to our pride, sometimes with a clean surgical swipe. The
tickling we feel in the aftermath is the itch of healing, the healing
of the wound made by that large spear."