Synopses & Reviews
Raedawn Somershoe lives in a trailer on the banks of the Fox River. She likes men and men like her. It runs in the family: her mother, Gelia, can seduce a man just by walking across a road. When they set their sights on a man, something magical happens.
Alexander Caebeau drives a bucketloader for a construction company. He's lonely, homesick, tired of cutting down trees and putting up ugly buildings. He dreams of going back to the Bahamas, but when Alexander meets Raedawn Somershoe, something magical happens.
Raedawn has just lost her lover. Her mother is keeping secrets from her. Her childhood sweetheart has come home and is looking for answers. Riverfront developers want Rae and her family gone. She may just be falling in love with Alexander Caebeau. And the Fox River is beginning to rise....Something magical is about to happen.
"There are some pretty weird things going on in the backwoods along the Fox River, just beyond Chicago's far-western suburbs. Twenty-four-year old Raedawn Somershoe and her mom Gelia are trailer trash, women of ill repute, who have worked their sexual wiles on many men in nearby Berne, Ill., not to mention any number of truckers and passing strangers. They live just outside of town with a variety of ill-sorted, half-feral family members and lovers and are mostly content with life. Then a corrupt developer decides that he wants their riverside property as the site for posh new townhouses and he won't take no for an answer. This turns out to be a mistake because the Somershoes have a powerful sexual magic, magic rooted deeply in the trees and the river, and the earth itself. Alexander Caebeau, a homesick Bahamian who runs heavy machinery for the construction company building the townhouses, quickly falls under Raedawn's spell. Then, after an enormous piece of construction machinery is found disassembled overnight, Caebeau is made night watchman and discovers that he has a marvelous and marvel-filled fate in store for him. Filled with oddly bent characters, lovingly detailed descriptions of the Illinois countryside, and just the right amount of magic, Stevenson's first novel is at once sexy, beautifully written and passing strange. (June 15)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Vivid, strange, pulsing with life, this is an unforgettable debut by a promising author." Booklist
"Jennifer Stevenson's raunchy, funny, and disturbing first novel, Trash Sex Magic, is full of bewitching weirdness." Chicago Reader
"Wonderful....Trash Sex Magic can sweep you up and leave up dazzled, miles from home." Locus
"Jennifer Stevenson's sparkling wit comes through in wordplay and metaphor....Surreal, and full of delightful weirdness, this has quickly become my most-recommended book of the year." Green Man Review
"This just absolutely rocks. It's lyrical, it's weird and it's sexy in a very funky way. Trash Sex Magic is full of people you would maybe be afraid to meet in real life, but once you've met them fictionally you are damn sorry you can't at least have a beer with them." Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler's Wife
"It's to Chicago what The Mysteries of Pittsburgh is to Pittsburgh and A Winter's Tale is to New York a winning, touching, open-eyed love letter but with trash, sex, and magic too. Unusual and wonderfully done." John Crowley, author of The Translator
"It was a proverb of the 16th Century: On Hallowmass Eve troll notte thy broomstick bye ye caravan park, for thou wottist notte who maye mount thereon. I had paid it little heed since learning it years ago, and planned to read this grand book one chapter at a time. I'd scarcely begun the second when I fell under the author's spell." Gene Wolfe, author of The Knight
"Ambitious, phantasmagorical, with images that burn into your brain and stay there, even when the book is off in a corner somewhere minding its own business." Ellen Kushner, author of Thomas the Rhymer
"Jennifer Stevenson is my goddess. In this book, trash is power. Trash Sex Magic is a springtime bacchanalia of beautiful, wild women, magic trees and sexy men love it!" Nalo Hopkinson, author of The Salt Roads
It's a romance, it's funny, it's sexy, it's about family and kinship, mothers and daughters, homecomings and never leaving home at all. It's got villains and magic and even a tornado, along with characters who go through unexpected transformations (some quite literal). Raedawn Somershoe lives in a trailer on the banks of the Fox River. She likes men and men like her. It runs in the family: her mother can seduce a man just by walking across a road. When they set their sights on a man, something magical happens. Alexander Caebeau drives a bucketloader for a construction company. He's lonely, homesick, tired of cutting down trees and putting up ugly buildings. He'd like to go back to the Bahamas, but his grandmother won't let him. When Alexander meets Raedawn Somershoe, something magical happens.
A Midsummer Night's Dream transported to the woods of Illinois.
“This just absolutely rocks.”—Audrey Niffenegger
“Raunchy, funny, and disturbing.”—Chicago Reader
“Deeply charming.”—The Washington Post
A tender, joyful, raunchy, radiant novel. Imagine The Metamorphoses or A Midsummer Night’s Dream transported to the woods of Illinois. When a development company cuts down a beloved tree, and tries to drive out Raedawn Summer’s family, strange things start to happen.
About the Author
With her husband of twenty-six years, Jennifer Stevenson owns Hawkeye Scenic Studios, Inc., a scenery construction shop located in Chicago. Her stories have been published in a number of anthologies. "Solstice" was published as a chapbook by Green Man Review. Trash Sex Magic is Jennifer's first novel. She is currently working on a series of romantic comedies.
What led you to start writing fiction?
I've always written fiction, ever since I was old enough to read. My mother and my maternal grandparents all wrote, and my father wanted to write; I guess it was just assumed I would, too. Sometimes I think I'm living out their ambitions.
What inspired you to write Trash Sex Magic? The setting is vivid and powerful, and almost a character unto itslef. Where/what did you draw from to create this world?
I started working on this book in 1986 while on jury duty. It started out as a short contemporary horror novel called Early Spring. Eighteen years and many, many revisions later, Kelly Link and I carved away everything that wasn't Trash Sex Magic. I can't say enough about her support, her appreciation for my vision of the book, and her writerly acuity. She talks about words in a way that awes me.
The setting for Trash Sex Magic is drawn from a place where my brother and I and our dogs played as kids: Wheeler Park in Geneva, Illinois. Natives of that area will recognize a lot of landmarks, some of which have disappeared. The trees in the park are really there, but the houses across the road, by the water, were very nice houses indeed. As a kid I never got to visit them or the river. I wanted to, though. The ridge really has a railroad track on top of it, and I wanted to sit up there at night and hear the freight train go by. I wanted to see the river smash into the ridge. I wanted to see a tornado hit the water. This book let me do all that. Nature is the truest, most powerful force on earth. I wanted to keep saying that.
Other inspirations were Carolyn Chute's The Beans of Egypt, Maine and a Tommy Lee Jones and Sissy Spacek movie, Coal Miner's Daughter. Without these examples before me I would never have thought I could write about this kind of life.
Why did you choose to tell your story with fantasy?
Joe Haldeman talks about a kind of progression he has noticed in veterans who write about their Vietnam War experience. First they do some very autobiographical fiction, or a straight autobiographical account. Then later they expand the scope of their stories, fictionalize their personal experience a bit, include experiences that other people had but they did not, so as to make the war more accessible to more readers. Finally, maybe 20 years later, they start writing wildly fantastical stuff with extravagant imagery and "unreal" things happening, because the fantasy element is the only way they can express the violence and extravagance of their emotions about the war.
For me, many parts of this book describe internal experiences I had as a child that I couldn't talk about. In fact I find it impossible to talk about them now, except by telling a wildly unreal story that illustrates these feelings in a lurid, over-the-top way.
Do you do any other kinds of writing?
I'm writing raunchy romantic comedies, erotic romantic fantasy, some short fantasy stories, some experimental short funny stuff that's all dialogue. Terry Bisson started doing that a few years ago; his stories blew me away and inspired me to try it myself. Those all-dialogue stories are bags of fun to write.
Trash Sex Magic deals with a lot of issues pertaining to class. Did you intend to write a novel with a political message?
Kind of. I wanted to respond to a trend I saw in fantasy writing and in fantasy criticism that treated magic in fiction as if it were an extension of academia. The taller your pointy hat, the longer your white beard, the better a magician you are, right? Sure, and your full professors are smarter than everybody else. This is the Tolkien/Harry Potter model. In reality, tenure doesn't make a person smarter. I felt that in fiction, magic ought to be treated with more respect, and not as a game whose rules must have "internal consistency" a fantasy lit-crit phrase that drove me nuts for years but as an extension of the mysterious and marvelous and very real natural world.
If you look back through the history of science, you find the history of magic. The dividing line falls at the point when scientists stopped thinking of nature as a lover to be wooed (Paracelsus is an example) and started thinking of nature as a wife to be mastered, plowed, and dominated (as did Roger Bacon). If you squint, you can kind of see the clash of these ideas, like a battle of mastadons in the swamp, in Trash Sex Magic.
I also wanted to point out that when the Somershoe women use magic, they are flying blind, without training, without vocabulary. "Internal consistency" aside, vocabulary is a good thing. Because they have a bone-deep belief that what they are doing is "trashy," Rae and Gelia don't talk about it. If they were "fantasy" heroines they would, but they're as realistic as I could make them irrevocably outside society and yet eternally standing at its edge, half-acknowledging its rules, unable to ignore the rules. Stupid, maybe, considering their powers. It could only strengthen them to talk. But they don't have a pointy hat. No one has given them permission to be themselves; they feel they've had to steal their powers under the noses of society. They're half-right to hesitate: they live under the constant awareness that their power is in the minority; their tree can be cut down; their land can be taken; their kids can be put in foster homes. People silence themselves all the time, and they suffer accordingly.
The worst thing these people do is call themselves trash in their secret hearts. You can overcome that if it's from the outside, but not if you're using that word on yourself. Am I talking about class?
What books have influenced you?
Most deeply? Rudyard Kipling, especially the Mowgli stories and Kim. Ray Bradbury. Andrew Lang's fairy tale series. Georgette Heyer, Howard Pease, Terry Pratchett, Sax Rohmer, Clifford Simak, Rex Stout, PG Wodehouse. A handful of little-known writers whose very few books hit me hard, by luck: Jody Scott, Ruth Nichols, Lorna Novak. Later, in my adulthood, Carolyn Chute, Maxine Hong Kingston, John Crowley.
Some writers who hit all the same buttons for me, but who didn't get to me soon enough to be major "influences", are Terry Bisson, James Blaylock, Glen Cook, Nalo Hopkinson, Barry Hughart, Diana Wynne Jones, Tanith Lee, Dan Pinkwater, Rachel Pollack, Sherri Tepper, Gene Wolfe. I read Audrey Niffenegger's first novel last year and flew over the moon; I'm hoping for more from her.
What are you working on now?
Two things: a romantic erotic fantasy about an incubus and a farm girl, and a raunchy romantic comedy that's kind of a cross between a contemporary blue-collar regency romance and a Romeo and Juliet farce. The erotic fantasy is hard; I keep having to redesign my heroine because the book gets more serious the farther in I plot it, and she needs to get stronger so she can carry that weight.
The comedy is just a blast. It's the second in a series I'm writing about stagehands. Stagehands make wonderful alpha male heroes. They're very physical guys, sometimes bad boys, serial monogamists with a blue-collar form of chivalry that balances their sometimes-chauvinistic ideas about women. They work in the glamorous world of show biz but they get their hands dirty. Unlike performers, they don't wear makeup or let themselves get too skinny to be strong. They're coarse and funny and relaxed about their masculinity. I've been married to a stagehand for 27 years and I'm here to testify. Ya gotta love 'em.