Dodie Bellamy, "The Debbies I Have Known"


[vi] 29 pp. Staplebound in pink wraps, featuring an image of Bellamy and a woman (probably Debbie), light stain to lower cover and age yellowing to extremities, interior in very good condition. Layout and design by Bellamy herself and typeset by Patsy Harrison. Rare, no copies listed on OCLC—although the text was republished by Hanuman Books in 1990 as part of Bellamy’s first book, Feminine Hijinx.


A wicked little portrait of a backhanded friendship, the kind where you’re not sure whether or not you’re friends, or if you’re even having a good time. The story itself tells of the kind of friendship breakup everyone experiences hopefully only once in their lives and makes for a great read. Bellamy’s eye for detail is sharp and her description of Debbie blunt.  But the organisation of the work subverts delivering any kind of straightforward wisdom by keeping all boundaries blurred: is Debbie a real person? is Debbie an actual friend of Bellamy’s? Is Debbie really just Bellamy herself? Other voices enter the narrative to add to the confusion: dialogue sections written in collaboration with Kevin Clinger feature Oscar Wilde and a “Rosemary Hallward” (also perhaps Bellamy?) gossiping about Debbie. An acknowledgement section nods to Hans Christian Andersen, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, Thomas Hardy, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ovid, Anne Radcliffe, and Mary Shelley—as if to bring down the full force of judgment from the literary canon upon Debbie’s head. After all: “Debbie was the only woman to betray me.” The mix of precision and experimental form is an important element of the New Narrative movement Bellamy helped pioneer—and what keeps her writing fresh to read to this day. In an interview with Matias Viegener in The LA Review of Books she describes it in these terms:

“I’m reminded of when I teach students about writing vignettes — I’ll suggest that by placing vignettes side by side, you can organize a piece by means of accrual rather than by using a conventional narrative arc. This is based on my own use of the paragraph as a sort of modular block in my writing. I like to write paragraphs that are self-contained, that I can rearrange at will. In the early days of “The Debbies I Have Known,” when I was still using a typewriter, I’d type each paragraph on half a sheet of paper, then scatter the sheets on the floor, then pick them up one by one, fan them in my hands like playing cards, rearrange them until they made sense to me, then retype them in that order. The earliest drafts of some of the letters in Mina were written this way, then I got my MacPlus with one megabyte of RAM and its glorious cut and paste functions — though I have nostalgia for the materiality of the earlier method. So, one might say that my organization of the paragraph is also paratactic. Don’t you think that cut-ups are the epitome of parataxis?”

This materiality of early desktop publishing influences the layout, design, and publication of this pamphlet. E.g. was an imprint run by David Highsmith from the back of his secondhand bookshop of the same name, where either Highsmith himself or authors could self-publish their works. The Debbies I Have Known was the fourth instalment in a series of chapbooks e.g. published, including I Lost It by Byron Perrin the same year and The Truth About Ted: A Selection from Carmen (1984) by Bruce Boone. By the time of Boone’s publication the imprint began spelling out its name, Exempli Gratia, rather than e.g.


Matias Viegener, “Poetry & Pornography: An Interview with Dodie Bellamy,” Los Angeles Review of Books (3 February 2014).!

Brooke Palmieri