ryan stuart, January 13, 2013
(view all comments by ryan stuart)
What an interesting book. I imagine 50 or 100 years from now, if liberal arts education is not laughed off university campuses, students of English lit might actually be studying this one.
It’s that layered, yep.
About halfway through I realized I was reading something I have run across so rarely: a book where men don’t actually matter much. I’ve read a zillion books where women were just plot devices, getting things kicked off or causing a plot twist. In these cases the men of the story were individuals, pretty much, but the women were interchangeable: the Vamp who sets Plot Twist B into motion is indistinguishable, really, from any other Vamp; the Lover could be any woman within the demographic, and so on.
I’m not criticizing these books, understand--for one thing, authors really do sometimes have a hard time writing opposite-sex characters, and sometimes it just doesn’t really matter.
But it feels much rarer to run across a book where the male characters are plot devices, and the women genuinely the focus. Not women-in-relation-to-men, but just… women as women. As mothers, sisters, daughters.
It was a kind of enchantment there, for a while.
But of course one cannot live forever in a world without men, nor should one want to. And the book is not advocating such. In this book, many of the men who come back are far finer than the ones who kicked the plot into motion.
The work is full of vocabulary-based felicities--the author apparently loves playing with language, and it pays off. The characters ramble between mythic and painfully or poignantly real; the style from fairy tale to some pretty gritty and stomach-turning scenes of abuse and violence. It’s not as if the author were creating some mash-up of styles and genres, it’s as if she saw where the edges of reality and magical reverie grind against one another like tectonic plates, and wrote from that space.
The book is not without flaws, but damn, it’s pretty close.