Walking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black, a newly expanded collection of her complete stories (some true, some not, some in between), provides many opportunities to fall in love with Mueller ... Many have stumbled onto wildness and never written anything of consequence. But Mueller was always writing, putting one foot in front of the other toward a horizon with no beginning and no end ... The evidence of her talent and wit bubbles off the page. Mueller writes with all the charm and warmth of Eve Babitz ... Walking Through Clear Water is an important recovery of the work she did manage to get down ... The water might be clear but the pool is painted black. The newly collected writings...bolster the evidence Mueller is much more than an It Girl. She is a writer.
Her writing makes me feel the way many of her contemporaries did about her: hypnotized by the generosity she afforded others and how quickly she found humanity in mayhem ... Even the shit sparkles when you ride with Mueller, who has punchlines for every disaster. A failed backwoods rape? Cookie sticks to anecdote and dark humor, her quiet way of processing trauma ... The memoirist hits hard because the events were real (mostly), but the fables glow brightest on repeated reading. They’re short, some only a page or so, but still manage to extrapolate a universe from the world of the wayward characters we’ve gotten to know in the first half of the book.
A fixture of certain literary crowds, she occasionally got work writing for magazines like Bomb and Details. In that way, she’s more easily compared to the 'party girl' writer Eve Babitz ... The title, chosen by Semiotext(e)’s founder Sylvère Lotringer, came from a line in the story 'Route 95 South–Baltimore to Orlando': 'The sky was like black cotton batting that enveloped us in a way that felt like walking through clear water in a pool painted black.' The double simile and repetition of 'black' is exemplary; much of the writing is this poignant and unlabored, reading like an extension of (or inspiration for) the drawled poetics in an early Waters film ... The material offers a more developed picture of Mueller’s short life. Her signature smirking asides, pressed between rape scenes and overdoses, are always summed up with a smiling shrug ... Walking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black is a cult classic for writers, though, and the reissue’s new (to us) pieces demonstrate Mueller’s artistic process.
Laughing it off is central to Mueller’s aesthetic. Her stories regularly sketch traumas—rape, overdose, illness—with a survivor’s comic irony. Perhaps that’s why her legacy feels so incongruous now ... Walking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black, a new, expanded edition of Mueller’s posthumous 1990 collection, is, contrary to most retrospectives of writers silenced by AIDS, not a testament to what we lost when Mueller died, but a freewheeling sensorium of her life. These pages are sordid with cigarettes and beer, dog hair and breastmilk, lipstick and shit. Mueller is fully present on the page, as a joking ingenue, a cynical den mother, and a genial euthanizer of art world pretensions ... Much of her work falls into the stylistic and thematic camp of New Narrative, a loose cohort of writers, based largely in San Francisco in the late 1970s, who used their own lives as grist for experimental and discursive fictions ... Mueller is less theoretical than some of her New Narrative contemporaries, but no less enamored of cheeky provocation ... The stories from this period are evocative vignettes of Mueller hustling to provide for herself and her son ... Her criticisms jibe with Gary Indiana’s ... What comes through in all of Mueller’s writing is her generous devotion to pleasure. Besides her appetite for booze and drugs, she found beauty in unlikely places.