“34” Tanith Lee ( writing as Esther Garber): Darkly erotic queer fantastika

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Immanion Press has reprinted 34 in an extremely handsome edition that even has illustrations and pictures. 34 was written Lee, who claimed to channel the work of the enigmatic Esther Garber. The novel is a darkly surreal lesbian quest, part Colette, part Angela Carter.

I wrote about 34 when it first came out in 2004.

If you are expecting a straightforward dive into lesbian erotica by Tanith Lee (or Esther Garber), you will be pleasantly disappointed. This brief, dense and somewhat experimental book explores the erotic imagination, the nature of memory and mediates on aging. Sexual obsession is the focal point through which many discursive images and ideas flow.
The plot finds 17-year old Esther fleeing London after her mother’s dramatic death. She absconds on a boat across the Channel, and ends up in drab hotel in rainy Paris slum. The amoral and jaundiced Esther is mistaken for a prostitute by the front desk clerk and her services are bought by a virago named Julie, who poses as a man. The sexual chemistry between them awakes passions in Esther, who leaves after the tryst. Thus begins Esther’s quest, almost mythic in scope, to find Julie.
If “34” is not a fantasy, it does not happen in the real world. Rather than a traditional `other world’, the action takes place in the clouded, magical world of memory and perception, as the first person narrator encounters patently incorrect or wrong things (such as a dog that is part wild boar) or too surreal (such as a Gothic mansion).
The main narrative is interrupted by glimpses into a distant childhood past in Egypt and visions of a future Esther, who is going through menopause in London, and may or may not have a sister (or alter-ego, Anna). Both the future and the past Esthers live in a reality closer to `normality.’ The child faces loss and dislocation; the old woman is trapped by her illnesses and indolence. Both are prone to extensive fantasizing.
All of these disparate threads are held together by hypnotic, feverish prose and a dark, sardonic wit. Mythology intersects reality-Demeter, Persephone and Isis all have cameos here. Female ciphers, villains and strange children cavort on the stage. Eroticism and desire infuse everything, obliterating logic and reason.
This novel isn’t for everyone, though. The vaporous, meandering storyline and the disturbing, politically incorrect sexuality on display here will stop many a reader. But those who like sophisticated erotica and experimental fiction will find this Angela Carter meets George Bataille work entrancing.

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan: A dreamlike travelogue

The GracekeepersThe Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Winner of this year’s Lambda Literary Award in the SF/H/F Category

Beautifully written, with a meandering plot.
The story moved slowly and the dramatic tension was in the doldrums. The lapidary prose and the elegiac mood is what propels this novel forward, rather than a proper plot. The worldbuilding was vague, both a strength and a weakness. (It suffers from the Planet of White People syndrome issue; seriously, where are the POC?) The characters were well drawn but some POVs were unneccesary and didn’t really reveal anything. (Why, for instance, is there a whole chapter from the point of view of the messenger, or from one of the clowns? They add nothing to the story). I feel the author missed opportunities to build suspense; the plot only takes place in the last 20 pages or so. It is better to take this book as a dreamlike travelogue than full-fledged novel. I’m looking forward to Logan’s next book.

STORY REVIEW: The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere by John Chu. A magical realist comedy-of-manners

The Water That Falls on You from NowhereThe Water That Falls on You from Nowhere by John Chu

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This short story could be in the New Yorker. The fantasy element is slight and serves to underscore this comedy-of-manners family saga. The story is grounded in reality and comes alive in the tensions between the siblings. Reminds me of the “mundane” magical realism of Jonathan Lethem, Jonathan Carroll or Karen Joy Fowler.

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BOOK REVIEW: Minions of the Moon by Rick Bowes. Top-notch Queer Fantastika

Minions

Lethe Press has reprinted one of the seminal works of Queer Fantastika (magical realist/weird fictional texts with LGBT content). Don’t miss an opportunity to read this.

 

Kevin Grierson comes from an Irish-American family that’s cursed by violence, booze and shadows. The Shadows, in this case, are real quasi-people who embody all of the worst instincts and impulses that a person can have. They are like the Id, given substance. In Grierson’s case, his Shadow pushes him into drug and sexual addiction and the petty crime that goes along with that lifestyle. The novel, told in a series of vivid flashbacks, starts in the late 40’s, in Boston and ends in the 90’s in New York’s West Village.

A strange coming of age story told in first person, Minions takes us on Kevin’s journey as he struggles to find out where he and his Shadow are separate entities. On one hand, the doppelganger drags him closer to hell and failure; on the other, the Shadow is streetwise and savvy and saves Kevin in more than one instance. Kevin and his Shadow exist in any uneasy balance with each other. They move from tragedies, failed relationships (with both men and women), and dangerous situations together, helping each other out in a sick, co-dependent-yet oddly comforting way.

.The scenes of sexual degradation and drug dementia are chilling and horrific in their accuracy. It’s part of what makes this a horror novel-the all-too real world of chemical dependency. As disturbing as these scenes are, they are what keeps this novel edge-of-seat reading. Bowes’ voice (as Kevin) is so real that at times I thought I was reading an autobiography. This is because Bowes makes us care about Kevin, even when he does horrible things. We’re with him when he finds love and transcendence, as well as with him down in gutter, looking up towards the stars.

The fantastic element is skillfully woven into the story. The mechanics of the Shadow are never properly explained-a vague telepathic awareness of each other when they’re split up is alluded to, never elucidated. The characters that enter Kevin’s life walk and breathe on the page, even if they appear for only a couple of scenes.The locales, particularly the seamy underside of New York, seem to be characters themselves.

Minions on the Moon is one of those novels that completely transcends the genre for which it was marketed. It is a stunning examination of identity and the search for meaning when you’re under the influence of various addictions and self-destructive behaviors.