Preoccupied with the complexities of identity and selfhood, memory, embodiment, loss, and family, Rebecca Păpucaru carefully examines details that make up one's lived experience.
"Lobster Dinner" describes a happy childhood memory of eating an entire lobster with an admiring father as her audience. "Take It or Leave It" is the casual and quotidian, yet heartbreaking, failure of a daughter and her mother to find an emotional connection during an art gallery outing. "Your Women Are Beautiful" betrays the dreamy excitement of travelling in an unfamiliar place, juxtaposed with the blunt reality of arriving home again.
The Panic Room is about the giants that loom over us, too. A second-generation Eastern European Jewish immigrant, Păpucaru attempts to grapple with connecting with her family's past as well as the distinct feeling of being disconnected. In "On Watching an Eastern Bloc Comedy" she writes, "I'm one generation apart from all this, / and ashamed. Of my father, before his / refrigerator, mourning age spots on lettuce."
Păpucaru offers unabashed honesty: the sort of reflections you'd only tell your dearest friend.
“Rebecca Papucaru’s debut The Panic Room quivers, ablaze with striking collocations of thoughts and things… This first collection sends shock waves on a scale all its own; it agitates the line as we know it. Papucaru is in tune with the hallucinations of histories, the shaky pasts of Eastern European Jews. The guitar is electric, the strings are made of steel, and she absolutely rocks it.
To close The Panic Room is to come out a little stirred and high on adrenaline.”
The Panic Room reads like an autobiography-in-verse of a Jewish-Romanian-Canadian, intellectual soul - part-drama-queen, part-dreamer - telling it like it is about cultural contradictions, familial angst, tragicomic marriage-and-divorce, black-comic seductions and sardonic jobs. Papucaru joins a novelist's gift of narrative and character development to the poet's talent for the says-it-all image to render memorable, verbal portraits of persons and events that are reminiscent of the absurdity of Eugene Ionesco and the mordant satire of Woody Allen. These poems are philosophical, funny and forensic in reaching the heart. The characters - such as Dider - are indelible. The Panic Room is a supreme debut.
These poems depict the experience of contemporary young people, especially women: the world they encounter, their efforts to reconcile with the fading past and find a place in the overcrowded present, vulgar yet antiseptic, chaotic in places, oppressively bureaucratic in others. Papucaru's satire, full of elegy, keeps before us the longing for a better world. Like the poem "Wonder," the book never expresses wonder directly, but makes its absence as fact a powerful version of its presence as an almost hopeless desire.
Panic Room is a truly exciting event in contemporary literature and in particular Canadian Jewish Literature. It is rare that a poet can engage with Jewish ancestry and history (although Papucaru also covers a breadth of subject matter) in a way that exhibits humour, pathos and a finely tuned ear. These poems demonstrate the precision of some of the finest poets in the tradition of English language poetry, but with Papucaru's own unique, quirky and clever sensibility. Think Fran Lebowitz meets T.S. Eliot.