CARRY THE DOG examines a life lived in the shadow of childhood trauma

Berenice and her brothers were the subjects of a series of nude art photos taken by their photographer mother in the 1960s that were both acclaimed and controversial.

Carry the Dog

By Stephanie Gangi

Algonquin Press: Nov. 2, 2021

288 pages, $26.95

In the late 1960s, iconoclastic photographer Miriam Marx produced the infamous “Marx Nudes,” a series of black and white photos of her children, twins Ansel and Henry and daughter Berenice, in scenes of domestic drama and sibling tension. The children hated being Marx’s subjects but were powerless to resist, and their father appeared to tolerate his wife’s controversial art and early feminist lifestyle. The kids had only each other, and Berenice was often left outside the close relationship of her brothers. In her late teens, following a family tragedy, she runs off with young rock star Gary Going, setting her life on a circuitous path.

Now, nearly half a century later, we catch up with 59-year-old Berenice (now Bea Seger), whose life has been shaped by her unorthodox childhood and her desire to escape her mother’s legacy. She is living a quiet but lonely life in Manhattan when she is approached by both a MOMA curator and a Hollywood producer about projects that will reconsider her mother’s work.

Is it time to face the past she’s been running from and reexamine her life in hopes of transcending her trauma? While considering these proposals, which would provide a retirement nest egg she desperately needs, Bea decides to unlock the long-ignored storage unit and go through her mother’s “archives.” The contents begin to provide an explanation for many unanswered questions about her mother (artist, pornographer, abusive parent?) and the impact of the photos on the lives of Bea, her brothers, and her father.

Carry the Dog is both a compelling character study and a mystery unraveled after 50 years. Gangi skillfully depicts Bea’s insecurities, cynicism, and romantic idealism, played out in her complex relationship with ex-husband Gary, her budding friendship with her much younger half-sister (a talented singer-songwriter going by the name Echo), and her dealings with the determined and charismatic museum curator and movie producer. The revelations that explain the actions of her parents and brothers are shocking but plausible, and Bea’s efforts to make sense of the past and the present – and choose a path forward – will have you rooting for her to find peace of mind at last.

Bea’s hard-earned wisdom comes late but the truth is always beautiful.

“Disappointment is a given, but the way it plays out, the surprises and coincidences, the unpredictability of who or what you think you know, the not knowing much at all, the unexpected outcomes and fuck-ups – it no longer represents a terrifying loss of control. Watching the messy narrative of life make its way – bearing witness, being present – is its own pleasure. After a certain age, it might not be fun, but it’s too fascinating to fear. It’s what I couldn’t have appreciated before now.”

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