Who Won Second Place at Omaha? by Diane Kagan

Who Won Second Place at Omaha? - Diane Kagan, Meryl Joseph

Diane Kagan is an actress with a long history on the stage and a respectable amount of appearances in film and television. She is also, evidence this book, completely fucking crazy. This was published by Random House for chrissakes. What was going on in 1975?

"Who Won Second Place at Omaha?" is a surreal journey through a private house/museum filled with dolls and puppets and mannequins. It is a showcase for a series of black and white photographs depicting dolls ranked on shelves and staircases, in cabinets, in pieces, in looming clusters, and pressed against window panes. The narration is in vignettes and is sheer lunacy.


We were visiting a friend's bookstore and he greeted us by saying he had something for my husband - something completely creepy. I was expecting either an ordinary doll collector's book, because everyone thinks all dolls are creepy, or some twee faux-macabre art book.


Nope. It was this.


Our narrator greets visitors at the door - all persons are off-camera - and reassures them that they have the right time. It takes so long to come up from the workshop, you understand. The voice is mostly this host/collector explaining the various personalities of the dolls and cryptically commenting every so often about a stray second place award ribbon from Omaha. Who does it belong to? Everyone is a winner here....


We never do find out who this particular winner is, perhaps the Jumeau from the cover, but we do hear many tales of woe - laments about loneliness, missing arms, abandonment anxieties, and decaying clothing. Some are happy - Raggedy Ann and Andy are just fine in their plastic bags - suffocation is not a problem for them the narrator assures you. They've been lying there for five years and haven't said a word.


The photographs are often stunning and the collection itself is impressive, with many photos of rare and obscure items arranged in an interesting fashion. The text is gleefully demented, but it may not impress anyone who isn't also a doll hoarder like my husband. He was in tears from laughing over this thing.


In his words: "Every. line. exposes her psychosis more. This is amazing. This is insane."