How Our Economy Works
Against Women and Real Ways
to Make Lasting Change 

by Rickey Gard Diamond

Tempe, AZ: She Writes Press, 2018; 320 pages

Book review by Lori Lustberg


Over 40 years ago, Mary Daly wrote: “Women have had the power of naming stolen from us … Women are now realizing that the universal imposing of names by men has been false because partial. That is, inadequate words have been taken as adequate.” In Screwnomics: How Our Economy Works Against Women and Real Ways to Make Lasting Change, author Rickey Gard Diamond and illustrator Peaco Todd reclaim women’s power to name and define our economic past, present, and future. EconoMan is Diamond’s term for the “ultra-masculine, ultra-rational mindset, the social construct of our time.” He uses the overly (and intentionally) complex language of EconoMansplaining, which devalues, even renders invisible, women, children, art, nature, community, and love. As Diamond puts it, “The un-monetized work of homes, churches communities, oceans, and compost piles is widely accepted as irrelevant to Wall Street global bankers, multinational corporations and Washington economists.”

The book’s title, Screwnomics, is Diamond’s term for the shadow side of EconoMan’s policies, the notion “that women should always work for less, or better, for free,” a notion that will only begin to change if and when “more women understand how the economic game gets played with a deck stacked against her.” By deftly explaining how the game has been played, Diamond’s gem of a book brings us one giant step closer to changing the rules, with Diamond ultimately proposing an entirely new game.

Rickey Gard Diamond


According to Diamond, through EconoMansplaining, EconoMan has made the economic game dry, boring and seemingly overly complicated, thus discouraging a more universal understanding of a realm that has such “concrete and far-reaching effects on our everyday lives.” Diamond meets EconoMansplaining head-on by interweaving her personal narrative with socioeconomic history, theory, and policy. Using thought-provoking cartoons illustrated by Todd, easy-to-understand economic definitions and creative (often food-related) metaphors, Screwnomics breathes life and brings meaning to the previously inaccessible realm of economic principles and policies. Finally, EconoMansplaining has met its feminine match.

How many of us, for example, grasp the concept of stocks, a term we hear in the news on a daily basis? Thanks to Diamond, we learn that stocks “began in a time when few could read numbers, and so simple notched sticks kept track of counts. In England, these were called tally sticks. Splitting a notched stick in two provided a record of exchanges between two parties, carrying proof of a payment or debt. It was used in courts of law when disputes arose. Later refinements made tally sticks into two halves of different lengths. The longer one, given to the creditor that supplied goods or capital, was called the stock. The shorter one went to the one who owed payment, giving debtors ‘the short end of the stick,’ otherwise known as the foil.”

This and many other important economic concepts, such as buying stock on margin, stock futures, long and short positions, and derivatives, to name but a few, are brought to life and down to earth in Screwnomics.

More than just dismantling the past and present, however, Screwnomics also sets forth practical ideas for creating a socially progressive economic future. Ideas such as replacing the gross domestic product (GDP) with the genuine progress indicator (GPI).

The GDP has long been used as an indicator of the economic growth and well-being of a state or country. It takes into account goods produced and services rendered, nothing more and nothing less. In 1968, Sen. Robert Kennedy explained that GDP “counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl.  It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. … Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. … [I]t measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.” 

Diamond proposes using the GPI, instead of the GDP, to capture an overall picture of economic growth and well-being and to shape economic policy. The GPI uses the GDP’s measures but also takes into account the social and environmental costs of those measures, many of which were articulated by Sen. Kennedy. Several states, including Vermont, have recently adopted the GPI.

Other solutions Screwnomics proposes include investing more of our dollars on Main Street and fewer on Wall Street; creating a system of local banks; using local currencies and exchanges; establishing a time bank, wherein people trade services; and instituting a universal basic income as well as a 30-hour workweek.

With the rise of the #MeToo movement, more women than ever are reclaiming their narrative and power over their bodies. In Screwnomics, women have a vehicle for reclaiming their narrative and power over their economic lives. Even more, we have a template for a long overdue female-centric, values-led economic revolution.

Lori Lustberg is a freelance writer specializing in financial, legal, and tax issues.


Whole Worlds Could Pass Away 

by Rickey Gard Diamond

Montpelier, VT: Rootstock Publishing, 2017; 167 pages

book review by Bronwyn Fryer

Full disclosure: Rickey Gard Diamond, founding editor of the paper you are holding in your hand, is a friend of mine. Though in “objective” journalistic circles, my writing a review of her book could be construed as a no-no, my friendship does not prevent me from giving you, dear reader, my honest opinion of her collection of short stories, Whole Worlds Could Pass Away. As a former journalist, literature professor, and contributor to this paper (now freelance book collaborator), I promise you that I know good stuff when I see it. And while I cannot say every single piece of work in this collection is dazzling, I would say that, taken as a whole, it’s pretty damned freaking good. But it’s also extremely powerful medicine, best taken in short schlurps. 

Rickey is a child of Michigan, something you can hear in a slight accent when she speaks and definitely in her writing. She is also a feminist child of the ’50s who straddles generations, so this book is a generation-straddling chain of common themes. As Rickey has told me, “stories are always about conflicts,” and in this collection, the conflicts are among many things beyond generations: men and women, social niceties and individually squelched lives, lies and honesty, conventionality and freedom. They are about picking up the shards of self-realization following divorce and separation; the final realization of the truth of things in the face of death; the absurdity of the phony layers of social mores. 

Rickey’s writing is deeply disturbing on many levels, but the stories in the collection are fairly balanced between dark and light. Some are very grim; some make you laugh out loud. All are beautifully crafted and nuanced, inviting you to figure out the authorial puzzle pieces. Many stories are told from the point of view (POV) of young, pubescent girls as remembered by their older selves. There are stories of disposed people: a lovelorn male photographer (“They Shout Praises”) who can’t understand why his steel-welding sculpturess could possibly leave him; abandoned women who come to feel their freedom in letting the the hair on their legs grow (“The House by the River”); daughters riven from their mothers, and more. There are also connecting stories: the protagonists of “Goldfish” and the final story, “Worms,” both of which are about sexual awakening, entwine.

On the grim side, the opening story “The Bear” begins with a young girl’s memory of a bear rug, musty and toothed and occasionally animated (her boy cousins “chased her with it one time, wearing it like a cape”) that also feels sexy (“she loved to feel her belly against his back, stroking his fur … she felt a pleasure fierce as her fear”). The bear is both sex and death, and the deaths of the men in this Vietnam-era woman’s life throb through into the future black Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington. There, the bear enfolds itself in her memory into a combination of deathliness and sexuality. The story is somber, symbolic, and weird, as several of the other stories are, but the common thread is sexual identity in all its forms. 

Rickey is an acute social observer who photographs beautifully through a gendered lens. She takes on male (repressed) and female (repressed then freed) views with equal acuity. Some of her passages remind me of the great short-story writer Tillie Olsen, whose story “I Stand Here Ironing” was one of the great ’70s-era shouts of feminine resentment. For example, in “Goldfish” Ann, a teenage girl, is crimped beneath her mother’s collusion with the ’50s status quo and that awful symbol of female repression, the ironing board: “Ann’s mother looks up from her ironing board … catching Ann’s tone, her eyes look empty of patience as she parks the steaming iron on end. In the moistness beneath the person Ann has become, she shrinks from her mother’s look that says: do you really think you know so much about me?”

On the lighter side, there is a funny story of an ancient, independent, and crazy cat lady (“The Visitation”) who takes vengeance on her neighbors’ plucking off her 27 cats one by one by sneaking out into the night to dump herbicide on their tomatoes and, in the process, accidentally poisons their dog. Then there is the David Lynch–worthy “What Happened at Wanda’s Place,” a story Rickey told me she birthed after she noticed that the usually empty parking lot of a dive bar in the middle of religious-country-nowhere was inexplicably full of tractor-trailer trucks. Her imagination stimulated when she learned from the local news that the struggling bar was importing topless dancers to drum up business, Rickey envisioned the dancers: one tall, skinny, pretty, and reluctant; the other stout, short, enormously endowed, and very enthusiastic with a very subaverage IQ (“exuberant as a fat kid at a barbeque”; “if my dog had a face like that, I’d make it walk backwards!” says a male patron) who could do amazing things with her breasts. The POV is that of a male stranger who can’t believe his luck. The first time I read this story it creeped me out; the second time, it made me laugh out loud.

I love these short stories as much as I like reading the ones in The New Yorker. Many are that good or better. I love Rickey’s midwestern, ironic, sometimes cynical and hard-bitten but always compassionate voice. But herein lies a warning: in this book the voice is concentrated, and reading these stories all at once is rather like swimming while holding your breath too long (water is a big symbol in this book). Like all good short-story collections, the experience is better taken in bits, so you can think about each story, take a breath and then dive back in for the next one. Taken together, the themes tend to overcrowd each other. Sometimes the symbolism is laid on a bit too thick (in “Goldfish,” the coming-of-age girls can sense somehow the swirl of the sexual origin of things, the black bear is the bearer of death, and so on), but the overall strength here is absolutely unavoidable.
That said, I bow to Rickey as an absolute master of what Flaubert called the style indirect libre in which the protagonist is not speaking in dialogue but in his or her inner thoughts. And the thoughts here, particularly as they relate to our deepest impressions as women, are very profound. A worthy read, in goldfish bits.


Behind These Hills: Poems

by Susan Sanders and Jessica Sicely

Cambridge, VT, 2017; 80 pages

Book review by Kate Mueller

Behind These Hills is in many ways a remarkable book and certainly not an easy one to read. In 1996 Susan Sanders suffered likely the greatest loss—the death of her child. Her 15-year-old daughter, Jessica Sicely, shot herself in the Vermont woods.
In the author’s note, Sanders writes that the last year of her daughter’s life was tumultuous; at one time a member of the National Junior Honor Society, her grades had been slipping, and it was obvious Sicely was struggling. Sanders was aware that during the last six months of her daughter’s life Sicely was writing poetry, but she refused to share her work, and Sanders respected her daughter’s privacy.

After her daughter’s suicide, Sanders went through a 12-year process of writing and continuously revising poems about her daughter, struggling to come to terms with Sicely’s death. Several of the poems in this book have been published previously in literary journals, the first in 2006, among them Two Hawks Quarterly, Blue Moon Poetry, and Oracle Literary Journal.

By 2017, Sanders had gathered a collection of poems. She had also read the poems her daughter had written during her last six months. Sanders says in her author’s note that she did some light revisions of her daughter’s work—altering a few line breaks, deleting some extraneous words—and decided to combine her own work and that of her late daughter into one volume.

The book is divided into six sections and alternates between the voice of the mother and that of the daughter. The book, as such, becomes a poignant dialogue. Behind These Hills begins with the mother, with the first eight poems arguably the rawest emotionally, as she copes with the immediate aftermath of Sicely’s suicide. Then the daughter speaks in section two. Knowing, as the reader does, that Sicely is writing privately to herself and that less than a year later she will kill herself adds a harrowing dimension to both her poems and those of her mother’s. Sicely writes not expecting that anyone will read her words, and her mother calls out to her after her death.

Sicely’s struggles, expressed in her poems, are recognizable to anyone who has survived adolescence and could almost seem ordinary—the struggle for identity and a place in the world, feeling alone, thinking no one understands you, along with intimations of an unrequited love or longing for a “he” who appears intermittently in the poetry. Recognizable struggles, yes—except we know, as we read, Sicely didn’t survive. Her thoughts and rhymes are sometimes and understandably juvenile but also haunting, dark, and incisive.

Sanders begins with the shock of her daughter’s death in Behind These Hills, the book’s namesake poem: “Shock still silently swirls / in a bed of dead pine needles / holding what was once alive / holding the body you fought / so hard to be friends with.” In another poem (“Before”) in the first section of the book, Sanders imagines avoiding the inevitable, the line “The gun slides back in the drawer” beginning each of the poem’s four stanzas: “The gun slides back in the drawer / before my daughter walked / into the woods, a handgun / slung low on her thigh.”

In the second group of poems by Sanders (the third section of the book), more time has passed since Sicely’s death, and though the speaker in the poems is hardly reconciled, some of the raw response if not exactly softened has acquired a certain wary weary distance. The poignant last stanza of the last poem in this section, Hades Nirvana, provides a segue to the last group of Sanders’ poems, which explore, in part, the Demeter-Persephone myth:

Hades came back as that
Dark Nirvana star, who
lured you over and left
nothing for me to track.
I held a bouquet of dying
flowers, waited on the street
for hours then tried
to pull your body back
from a sidewalk crack.

In the fifth section and the last group of Sander’s poems, the death of her daughter takes on, in some of the poems, a mythic or dream dimension, as the speaker sidles closer to partial closure. In “An Eclogue,” she addresses her daughter with a series of questions followed by imagined responses: “Why did you want to leave? / The woods called my name through the trees. / Did those angels carry you up above? / The last light slipped down to the ground.” And ends with a statement: “My heart hides inside a hollow shell. / There are winds which tell another story.” In the next to the last poem by Sanders, “Fault Lines,” the speaker comes as close as possible, perhaps, to some kind of reconciliation: “Then that invisible line / was no one’s fault. / It festered up slowly / inside her mind, / and was also no one’s fault / but the business / of what was not.”
Sicely has the last section and the last word. The next to last poem by Sicely, “Faint Stars,” echoes the mythic dream-like quality of Sanders’s final poems. The last two stanzas:

The night is filled with faint stars,
a frowning moon, and there is
something that you try to understand
but hear only muffled voices in love’s song.
No one understands what disappears
over the mountains.

I can hear my love calling
but he cannot hear although
I never spoke the words.
I wanted to lay down under stars
on a blanket where words come with
reasons that have no answers.

In the poem that ends the book, Redemption, Sicely addresses God, the last two stanzas a fitting ending for this review:

When you ask
and find him
he covers
what lies inside.

Our purpose
is to dream
in the hidden corner
of his heart.

Kate Mueller is a freelance book editor and editor of Vermont Woman newspaper.




Lori Lustberg is a freelance writer specializing in financial, legal, and tax issues.

Kate Mueller is a freelance book editor and editor of Vermont Woman newspaper.

Bronwyn Fryer is a freelance collaborative writer and book editor in Montpelier.