When I first started reading Kathleen Aguero’s chapbook Investigations: The Mystery of the Girl Sleuth (dedicated “For Nancy Drew fans everywhere”) I felt like the type of audience the author intended: I grew up reading Nancy Drew and other girls’ mystery novels and am now at an age where I sometimes long for the simplicity of a formulaic plot and a crook to catch.
The collection opens with “To Nancy Drew on her 50th Birthday”, a poem which seems to me basically a mélange of titles and situations from many of the books. A note at the end of the volume calls this piece a found poem, but I felt that it was a bit boring, at least for an opening. However, the next several poems interestingly articulate Nancy’s problems (an unhappy marriage, a breast cancer scare) and discontent with her role in life; in “Competence”, she would “…like to change plots/ but she can’t figure out how.” The poems continue, following Nancy on a vacation where she can’t quite relax, peeking into the thoughts of her father and the housekeeper, then becoming more socially aware. “Stumped” reads like a real woman’s crisis with Nancy stuck between past and future with no way of growing older, nothing but a “stalled self”, and in “Unsolved Mysteries” Aguero points a finger at the selfish bourgeoisie world Nancy inhabits. And then, with “Mystery of the Tolling Bell”, the poems shift from a third person view of Nancy’s fictional world to a first person world in which teenagers do horrible things, friends commit suicide, and mothers develop dementia.
These poems, while couched in the terms of mystery, don’t fit with the rest of the collection. I found myself wondering if Aguero wanted to write two books: one about Nancy Drew, the other about the mysteries of her own life (or other ‘real’ lives). If she did intend to blend the two together, the balance is off in this chapbook; only five of the nineteen poems are in the third person. I feel like the chapbook would be stronger without those pages, particularly as it ends on a lovely note. After all of Nancy’s failures, fears, and stalling, the final piece “Zen Nancy” seems to show a girl sleuth who has somehow found a way to grow up, as she investigates bigger mysteries like “the sound/ of stone, the color of air,/ the vast and cloudless sky”.
The chapbook is available from Červená Barva Press