Trying hard to tie these strands together -- to make of these divergent worlds a single story -- Gibson sometimes overreaches. Langmuir barely survived a car wreck on the day of Arbus' death He and Lucas shared the same birthday and the same initials. And of Langmuir's unearthing of Arbus' photos, Gibson muses, "Could it be that he had been given these discoveries in order to reunite Charlie and Diane? Was his very being the mystical vessel in which this union was to be accomplished?"
Um, no. And no. Arbus would likely have prickled at these notions. "What I'm trying to describe is that it's impossible to get out of your skin into somebody else's," she once said of her photos. "That somebody else's tragedy is not the same as your own."
But Gibson wants to keep things tidy. He goes out of his way to defend Arbus from the critical assaults of Susan Sontag, who, not entirely unfairly, called the photographer a "supertourist," dipping underground and collecting disturbing trinkets for the audience back home. His reasoning is less than rigorous -- he dismisses Sontag as catty. ("[I]t seems likely that Sontag considered Arbus a rival for ascendancy in the hip and glamorous zone that marked the intersection of pop culture and high culture.") But he does get what Sontag missed: that Arbus' images of freaks are anything but freakish. Her midgets and hermaphrodites gaze at the camera with warmth and generosity. Many of her shots of "normals," on the other hand, are positively deranged. Misery and suspicion twist their faces. Only the freaks look anything like human.