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a review of About Irene

Published August 28, 2014 by The Merida Review

Woo hoo! Look at this! Thank you, Geoff!!!!!


It would be too simple to call About Irene a doll’s memoir. Irene is broken, but this inventive, brilliant new novel by Cher Bibler is not so much about Irene – who really “is” broken, as in pieces – than it is about humanity set in a doll’s world, through a doll’s eyes (with parallel reflections from the human world as well). As one doll remarks in the novel, they are made in the human form to mimic human nature, but here, they also “are” human nature, and can feel just as deeply as any of us who read their stories. “We don’t change, but our little girls grow up and away from us,” another doll says. Bibler has created an intoxicating and addictive novel. Read it in one long sitting and you’ll immediately want to revisit these new friends. The story begins with our narrator under the care of Sasha, who only begins collecting dolls after her husband dies, and Sasha is now dying herself, with the dolls wondering where they will end up (a common fear), and what will happen to their friends, their relatives. Their fears are soon realized as they are put into auction, and our narrator finds herself a new owner, Vickie, who immerses herself in doll clubs, doll shows, doll conventions – the works. “I have lived many lives,” says one of the dolls. So she has. You may well wonder about these words – as in, are the dolls indeed alive – did that doll’s arm just move, did she just pull a small piece of lint from her dress? Are the dolls throwing tea parties for each other? This is a novel that plays with reality, but it is no fantasy. And not all dolls are female, either. Take Nevis, who is meant for a boy to play with. Then the boy goes off to war and dies, just as he’s made Nevis die time and time again. Nevis, who fancies himself a writer, drinks too much now and talks incessantly about those war years. Yes, dolls can be bores and snobs as much as they can be loving and your best friend. A lot of who a doll is comes from the owner, but also, dolls are made from different materials and are created in different times. Even the fashions reflect their times. There is royalty and there are the peasants, and those who exist somewhere in between. There is bound to be a division – from how they see themselves in the doll hierarchy to how they look upon the other dolls they share a home with. A Cher Bibler poem, or rather, a Nevis poem, punctuates each chapter, and often times tells a story within the story, adding yet another dimension to a tale that is sure to have you wishing for a sequel.

– Novelist Geoff Schutt