Thursday, May 25, 2017

A surreal fairy tale

Moon Snake

Kirsten Alene

Publisher: Eraserhead Press 

Pub. Date: June 1, 2017

Rating:4 out of 5 stars


Moon Snake consists of two novellas that are part literary landscape and part magical fairytale, Kirsten Alene has an unique style that transmits a strange surreal innocence. Her worlds are her own with talking mastiffs, pear blossoms, avocado houses, dream ships, and many other strange things and entities . It's hard to compare her to anyone else but I kept envisioning the mystical worlds of Tanith Lee combined with the deceptive simplicity of Banana Yoshimoto. What brings Alene to the forefront is the fairy tale abstractness and characters that strive and develop in the forever changing imagery of a world foreign to anything we may know..

The title story starts with a red bridge being built to completion to a place that is feared. The place is Moon Snake and what the entry into Moon Snake will mean to the denizens of the author's fantastical world appears to be the question. The narrator and her friends, including Pecan Black, Lion James, and the shaman make up the bulk of the characters but the real joy of reading it is in the poetic but stark style of the author. I am not sure if there is a theme here and I find that to be a distraction. But it is easy to get caught up with the author's turns of phrases and the creative imagination that went into the telling of this story.

As much as "Moon Snake" both entertained and confused me, the second story fared better in my mind. "Cathedral Bone" seems to have a more direct connection with our own emotions. Again, we have an unnamed female narrator. She works as a volunteer for a cathedral and has talking mastiffs, lots of them, as companions who follow her around. There are also two men who are connected to her but she feels a bit wary about them. The mastiffs are dwindling and become scarcer. One mastiff bites one of the men and the dog is caged and starts to shrink. Again we have a story that seems elusive in meaning yet rich in imagery. But I sense a more emotional connection here. It appears to be a story of family and loss of family, the need and fear of intimacy and also what occurs when trust is lost. So many paths, so many possible connections.

Of course I may be wrong and this is both the strength and weakness of such a surreal style. The imagery is beautiful on its own. This book can be read for that alone. But Alene's writing goes beyond that , she is getting at something past the innocence of style and she makes you work for it. It so happens to be the type of labor I can love. Others may find it to be too challenging to seek meaning. To those readers, I simply say let yourself wander like the dream ship in the book and simply let the language wash over you. If you pick something up, great, Nurture it. If you don't, you will still sense the beauty of an imaginary world if nothing else.

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