, who is made of awesome, typed all this out for me, so here I present it to you, should you, you know, care. And also for me so that I can remember to excerpt it on the website.
artist Michael Kaluta, is by far the most successful and accessible
yet from the dazzlingly talented Catherynne M. Valente. It encompasses
a number of lofty predecessors without being diminished by them. First
and foremost, it models itself upon The Book of One Thousand and One
Nights not only in its central conceit, of a woman spinning out
nightly stories to a prince, but in its Middle Eastern fantasyland
setting. But it is also a novel about storytelling, a self-conscious
postmodernist narrative exercise that calls to mind John Barth’s
brain-twisting novella “Dunyazadiad” and Italo Calvino’s novel If on
a Winter’s Night a Traveler.
A mysterious girl whose bizarre appearance has led to a gentle but
solitary captivity within the sultan’s lush gardens tells stories to
one of that monarch’s young sons, a boy who first approaches her to
demonstrate his bravery in the face of a monster but quickly becomes
enamored of her and her tales. As do we. These tales are astonishing
inventions that perfectly capture the feel of traditional fairy tales
without ever merely recapitulating them; oh, there are elements shared
with existing fairy tales and myths, but only because Valente is
drawing on the same primal sources. Each of her tales spins off into
another, burrowing deeper into the heart of story, as character after
character insists upon being heard, upon telling his, her, or its own
story, all of them weaving together into a sumptuous and satisfying
whole. The movement is inward, then outward again, then inward, from
the depths to the surface and back again, in a cyclical pattern
appropriately reminiscent of sleep rhythms or the stitches that make
up a tapestry. This structure works beautifully to build suspense and
layer complexity into the novel. Very early it becomes apparent that
each of the tales related by Valente’s characters, of pirates,
monsters, shape-shifters, and living stars, is a facet of a bigger
tale: a tale too large for a single volume to contain.
Just as extraordinary as the unflagging yet never grasping
inventiveness that distinguishes these pages, and which holds not only
for the individual stories but the vast mythos that slowly emerges
into view, underpinning and overarching them, is the degree to which
Valente succeeds in grounding her flights of fancy in characters — some
human, some not — that we come to know and care deeply about.
–Mixed reports as to whether Gahan Wilson or Paul Witcover wrote this
Still very sick, in other news. Still very snowing, for which I am glad. Trying to decide if flying to Boston is a better bet than driving, even if it would mean missing a fun stopover in New York.