Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Great Lover

He reads it slowly, which is unusual for him; he is the type to devour books in as few sittings as I can manage.  But this is not a novel that he can follow with my typical speed.  Its sudden shifts of point-of-view-- between characters, first to third-- and the bursts of nonsensical imagery make it difficult for him to build up a rhythm, and on the rare occasions when he did, I find that reading so quickly makes me loose track of Cisco's dense, stunning imagery.  Also the narrative momentum is low, as characters and situations are gradually introduced alongside descriptions of dreams that may or may not have anything to do with the plot, may or not have make sense on their own terms, but are almost always evocative, of fear or terror or lust or what you will.
Here among the branches and drifting lamps, in a silence punctuated by the barely audible creaking of the boughs and the rasp of leaves falling, settling, delicate corpses are suspended like wasps' nests, dappled with shadow and soft, shabby patches of decay.  They are stored among the branches until all of them have convened, filling the wood with a musty odor, mixed with the smell of the trees the forest has the scent of an ancient spice cabinet.  Incense is wafted over the bodies daily; the censer-bearers move patiently along from trunk to trunk, and tender shoots of smoke slither in the grooves of the bark, coil up in bunches under dully lustrous leaves.

"We must put the bodies in the brine tank."

The music of these words reverberates from one end of the narrative to the other.  Down below you, in the sewers, I struggle in the strong, brown current.  Pale helpless bodies shrink deeper into the protection of my arms.

The map (aside): He works doggedly, with a kind of protestant strenuousness.  Without pause he turns and goes back into the tunnels, drops instantly into the water and is gone, coat flapping behind him in the current like a ray's wing.  He emerges again, a body beneath each arm; the water seems reluctant to release him, dropping from his back like a heavy hood.  These are the last.

A wind stirs the wood, the bodies nod dreamily, serene faces dip, fingered by branch shadows.  The wind animates hands and feet, and the bodies gesture with a voiceless grace, celestial, fairy tranquility.  They are like shafts of sunlight dropping down through the forest canopy, light or dark their skin sheds a mist of light, as though these woods had been invaded by an army of gigantic glow worms, inexplicably locked in sleep.
 Yes yes long quotes are all very well, you say, whoever you are on the other side of the screen, but what is the book about?  If I thought I knew, I would tell you.  But all he sees are pieces of the puzzle: lust and death and religion and the contemporary underworld of the subway; a Prosthetic Libido and a City of Sex and Vampirism.  Is the book irreducible because the mysteries it examines are irreducible, or because the reader has Missed the Point?  In any case he will read it again, after he has read more Michael Cisco's work.  Until then, there is only the experience of reading it: almost incidental postmodern asides; language, grammar, usage so eccentric that typos are impossible to tell from artistic license; a sequence of tragic misunderstandings that unfolds at breakneck pace' scenes that are disturbing viscerally, psychologically, philosophically, or all at once.  The Great Lover is, is, is... is.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Brendan, I read your review above enticed by your description of "an unusually odd review" when linking elsewhere to it here - and as I've only read the first two chapters so far I found this a very strange thing to find myself doing. I think this book has switched us.