Steve Erickson claims kinship with authors Philip K. Dick and Thomas Pynchon, and its easily to see why. Like those authors, he subtly twists the nature of reality and history until it resembles the inner (both philosophical and psychological) landscapes of his characters. This novel is about white-haired Marc and his mother, who live on a small island in the middle of a fog-shrouded river in the Pacific Northwest. They have an estranged relationship with each other, stemming from the fact that Marc doesn’t know who his father is, and his mother will not speak to him about her past. One day, he comes home and finds her with a dead man at her feet. The image so disturbs him that he will not set foot on the island for about 20 years. He takes over the ferry that shuttles tourists back and forth. He finally goes back to the hotel where his mother lives, in search of a mysterious girl who has not stepped back onto the return ferry to the mainland, and runs into his mother. The ghost of the dead man is still at her feet, and he tells both mother and son of his strange history.
Banning Jainlight was the bastard son of a farmer and his Native American slave mistress in the earlier part of the century. He ends up burning down the farm, killing one of his half-brothers, and crippling both his father and his step-mother for the cruelty they inflicted on him. He runs away to New York City, and several years later, ends up in Vienna, Austria, where he writes pornography for a powerful client in the newly ascendant Nazi Regime. He bases his writings on the strange, surreal sexual encounters he has with a young woman who lives across the street from him. In his writings, he transforms her features and her name to resemble those of the client’s — who is, of course, Hitler — long lost love. Bear in mind, that this is just a brief description of this novel.
Jainlight’s story sparks off the no-less compelling story of Marc’s mother, that moves from pre-Revolutionary Russia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Post-war New York City. Moving across dreams and reality, fantasy and history, this dense novel weaves together such unlikely themes as relationships between lovers and parents; the nature of good and evil; and the quest for identity. The images and instance in this novel are numerous and unforgettable: a woman who can kill men with the wild beauty of her dancing and menstruates flower petals; a city that’s in the middle of a lagoon, and covered by blue tarps; a burial ceremony where the dead are hung upside-down on trees until they can speak their names; a herd of silver buffalo who run through the plains of Africa and North America. The writing is lovely and lyrical.