Dina Polizzi’s first novella Two Apache Sisters and a Texas Gigolo was on my read-list for awhile, not only because Polizzi is my friend and neighbor but due to its marriage of magic, tarot, and its esoteric nature, which all interest me.
Two Apache Sisters struck me immediately as an allegory — the caliber that I haven’t experienced, really, since Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” — due to its penchant for placing big-motif meaning in occult-shaded trinkets and persons. There’s the coin, the many bags and satchels, the star, the green fairy, a shell, an arrowhead, a water bottle, salt, and even the Oriental man who recites philosophical tag lines — each in their own time.
Brace yourself. Try to imagine a world in which the violin has become “nearly obsolete.” I know, right?! You’ve nearly fallen to your knees, begging for mercy, asking yourself why. Why, great creator, did humanity ever get to this point?
I am a big fan of the violin. I am learning to play it at almost 40 years old because I feel that it is the most beautiful instrument on the planet. Yet, when Trollope kicks off his futuristic dystopia novella The Fixed Period (British, 1882) with this absolutely chilling vision, it signals that although Trollope is one of the most skilled Victorian Realist writers, the man had next to no imagination.
Masculinity is expected to be presented and challenged in traditional epic tales. Texts that include epic journeys of their protagonists, such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, and The Bible, capture challenges that call into question man’s courage, strength, intelligence, love, dedication, and more. I mean, just look at Odysseus here, rendered helpless, with the sirens encroaching:
So when I picked up the first book in Robert Jordan’s 14-book series The Wheel of Time, The Eye of the World (American, 1990), I was not surprised that this epic tale centers on a quest to purify the masculine half of the One Power, which is integral in turning the Wheel of Time.
An affluent womanizer, Tony Bream. The nicest, sweetest girl, Jean Martle. A desperate lover abroad too long in China, Dennis Vidal. The odd Rose Arminger.
They all seem like characters from the famed game Clue.
Who was the murderer of the little girl Effie Bream; who held this child’s delicate body under the water until she drowned?
In The Other House, Henry James writes an awkward murder mystery vis a vis a novel of manners that begins with some piquant flavor of the supernatural. As in many of James’s works (such as The Turn of the Screw and What Maisie Knew and The Awkward Age), a child is in grave danger of a horrific and unnameable threat from the adult world. And as all good fairy tales do, this wayward genre-shifter begins with the death of a damned good mother.
The theatrical nature and content of Sologub’s The Little Demon had me envisioning a play on the stage for the first third of the novel. Hilarious dialogue, telling imagery, and one of the most paranoid and depraved characters in fiction made visualizing this text taking place physically before me easy. For much of this novel, I thought that Sologub would surely continue to circuitously loop Peredenov’s mad antics into infinity. He “loved nothing and no one, and as a result the real world could only have a depressing effect on him.” Depression surmounts as his extreme paranoia builds and he believes that his friends intend to poison him, his lover wants to shoot him, colleagues are jealous of his success, and children want to have sex with him.
When I picked up a novel with a stunning title like Noli Me Tangere (Touch me Not) (Filipino, 1887), I expected to encounter a work dredged in corporeal, visceral experience and language. I wanted a novel centered on the function of touch: human interaction, physicality, phenomenology, flesh. I didn’t get this in Jose Rizal’s incredible text, but I didn’t really feel disappointed in not getting what I wanted — because in some ways I received a more meaningful gift.
Sanshiro by Natsume Soseki is a novel about Japanese masculinity in which Sanshiro, our hero, comes to terms with his role as a college-educated man from the country. Sanshiro is a Modern(ist) hero who develops a heightened sense of self-consciousness as a result of the industrialized and urbane environment of higher education in the city, a confusing confrontation with “unintelligible” Western literary artifacts that seem important in Japanese education, and from his indomitable fear of women. In the city, Sanshiro finds himself among flowers with “no fragrance to speak of.” The lectures that he initially painstakingly transcribes come to “neither cheer nor depress him,” and he is “quite unable to determine whether they were boring or not.” In fact, he comes to find it “strangely pleasant that he could not understand the lecture.” This period of Japanese history is referred to as a time in which “a freedom of the mind” is necessary and desirable through education. For this reason, Sanshiro reads his literature closely but “when he asked himself what he read, there was nothing. There was so much nothing, it was funny.” His journey to become an academic becomes meaningful due to its meaninglessness. Sanshiro “could not say he felt satisfied, but neither was he totally unsatisfied.” He is positioned in the lukewarm existence of a Modern hero who straddles — often confusedly — disparate states of being.