as a reader, sometimes you come across books that feel bespoke, and this is one of mine. like Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance, it’s fabulism done perfectly; establishing a unique, intricately detailed world and layering it over our own. this one drew me in effortlessly with its unusual premise, breezy lyricism and immersive storytelling; transporting me deeply into its clefted bosom under some kind of hypnotic spell whilst it told the story it wanted to tell before bounding jauntily away, not sticking around to answer any questions.
it’s also the kind of book that’ll make you sound like a crazy person if you have to describe its plot to the uninitiated:
so, there’re these healers, right? and they look like father-and-daughter humans, but they’re only humanish; they’re something else, okay?, something perpetual and ageless; something called forth and assembled from magic and nature and i dunno—twigs? and they have a house on this swathe of enchanted Ground, and villagers come to them when they have ailments, and they cure them. oh, and that’s what ada and her father call people—they call them “Cures,” as in “Some Cures give off a scent when they’re lying,” &etc and so but these Cures are put into a resting state, they open them up sorta magically and extract the tumor or whatever by humming or…clucking?, and sometimes they need to bury the Cures in the Ground for days or weeks so they can—like, heal more? and then the book gets weird.
which sounds like a confusing mess of bad ideas and silliness but that’s just it—it’s a story difficult to summarize and a tone difficult to convey from the outside, but she has built this world so well and carries the reader through it so smoothly, you don’t question anything or feel confused—you’re in as confident and capable a pair of hands as any other Cure:
My thumb, when I ran it along the soft inside of her arm, saw the blood come heavy and slow. This we did with women past a certain age, relieve some of the pressure that gets into their blood. But her blood was extra thick. So thick I half expected the opened vein would shimmy up flecks of iron, as pebble-bedded streams will sometimes in a certain light reveal shards and lumps of gold.
After a few moments I pushed the skin back together and wiped it clean with my dress. The skin of her stomach fell easily apart, its elastic long gone. The ovaries were all sinewy and very small, lined with the deep grooves of a peach stone, and her womb shone with an unseemly wet.
It made me think of staling fruit that takes on the shape of the bowl it sits in.
the story is told through ada’s perspective, chapters offset by testimonials about her from some of the villagers, with varying degrees of appreciation and suspicion for her, her father, and their work.
it’s beautiful, dark, atmospheric, elemental—it’s this short, quick book about the body and nature and otherness, with so much going on in its genre-roots: fantasy and family and horror and romance—one fully acknowledging the unpretty shape of a love story where one of the participants is inhuman; something crouching at the relationship’s crossroads.
Whenever he was inside me I turned into a fist, grasping and releasing, a fist learning the shape of the thing it’s holding.
it’s a dark and sticky sorta fairy tale—erotic and violent and delicate, as amoral as capital-n nature, beautifully written and frequently surprising. there’s some why and how that go unanswered, but it’s completely irrelevant to your reading pleasure. greg said something about this book staying true to or being consistent with its own rules (i was only half-listening), and he’s right. you are welcomed in, allowed a wander through the lovely poison garden of it, and then you are gently pushed out, returned a little dazed and haunted, but wanting more in the best way possible.
her next book, i’m first in line.
weird weird weird in the best possible way.
review to come!