I've decided that as much as I like Angela Carter, and I like her very much indeed, she is not someone to read when you want to feel all warm and fuzzy inside. She tends more towards someone who makes you feel a little uncomfortable. She might even make you blush a little. You read her to stretch yourself--your mind and your imagination. And you bask in her most sublime prose. Even as I was reading the last three stories, wondering where they come from (what sort of a mind comes up with such stories!), I would reread sentences and paragraphs impressed by how eloquently she expresses herself.
In "Master" a fierce hunter (who discovers that his only vocation is to kill animals) corrupts a young woman who he buys from her tribe, and in a reversal of fortunes the hunter becomes the hunted and both become more like the savage animals for whose blood they thirst. Murderous and abusive he works his way up from smaller animals to larger, from "pastel-colored excesses" at home to larger and larger animals in the New World. When he has decimated all that he can, the jaguar becomes his best prize.
Friday is the name he gives his purchase, and she becomes his guide and mate of sorts. Her tribal beliefs meant she regarded herself as an intermediary between the ghosts and fauna. Her tribe never killed and only ate roots.
"He taught her to each the meat he roasted over his campfire and, at first, she did not like it much but dutifully consumed it as though he were ordering her to partake of a sacrament for, when she saw how casually he killed the jaguar, she soon realized he was death itself. Then she began to look at him with wonder for she recognized immediately how death had glorified itself to become the principle of his life. But when he looked at her, he saw only a piece of curious flesh he had not paid much for."
If you believe in karma, this is a case where ill-intentions come full circle. The master pours his skill into his student until she becomes more proficient than he himself. And the ghosts of the jaguars watch with glee his downfall.
"Reflections" is another story filled with imagery and no doubt lots of symbolism and meaning. It's told in first person by a young man walking in the woods one late spring morning when he comes across a most curious thing--a seashell so very many many miles away from the ocean.
"When I looked at the shell more closely, I saw the nature of the teasing difference that had struck me when I first set eyes on it. The whorls of the shell went the wrong way. The spirals were reversed. It looked like the mirror image of a shell, and so it should not have been able to exist outside a mirror. But all the same, I held it."
When he lifts it up he finds it is quite heavy and is ready to spirit it away when a woman who he had heard singing earlier (but couldn't see) stops him. She firmly places a rifle point in the middle of his back and forces him to go with her to a country house where he finds something even more curious.
There is an old crone there knitting away. She tells him she had dropped a stitch and this caused an opening to another "system"--perhaps a parallel universe--and the shell fell through. This other place is the Sea of Fertility and can be seen through the surface of a mirror. This is a strange world where everything is seen in reverse and has a equal equivalence on the other side. When the woman makes the young man go through the mirror terrible things happen there.
These stories are filled with the macabre, with violence and unhappy sexual unions. I thought "Elegy for a Freelance" might remain on more steady and familiar terrain with its post-WWII London setting, but once again this is not a happy world she describes. Again the narrator is telling the story in first person of her relationship with a self-proclaimed political assassin. They live in a building that is soon to be torn down but is filled with squatters and other inhabitants.
"I went into his world when I fell in love with him and felt only a sense of privilege in its isolation. We had purposely exiled ourselves from the course of everyday events and were proud to live in parentheses."
I struggled with this story in a way I had not with the others, though I sort of liked the dystopian feel to it and its ending that begins with a coup more likely to occur in a banana republic that they never saw coming. These are such wild and weird worlds that to spend time in them even for a little while seems like it set me a little off balance. I wonder if that was the point?
Nine profane pieces was just enough. I want to read more of Angela Carter's work, but she is someone who is best approached with a mild intensity and then a little time off to breathe and ruminate. Now I need to read something more about her and her work to try and understand just what makes her tick.
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I'm running a little behind in reading my New Yorker stories. It was bound to happen, but I am determined to catch up. I won't choose a new short story collection until I've read the last couple of short stories that are waiting for me. The March 17 issue contains a story by a writer I have long meant to read (have some of his books) and have now had a taste of what he's all about. T.C. Boyle. Have you read him? Very tongue in cheek--at least that is how his Q&A comes off in This Week in Fiction. I like that. You know what this means now . . . must dig out some of the books I own by him.
"The Relive Box" is a statement on the way we live now. If I owned a relive box I am not sure I would use it much to be honest, but then I remember a world without computers, Twitter and Facebook. We've become pretty disengaged as a society, I think. I sometimes will watch people who are with each other, but not really. Physically they may be inhabiting a close space but in reality they are both actually locked into whatever mobile device they have in hand. In Boyle's story there is an invention called a "relive box" that projects a time and place from the past of the viewer's choosing onto their retinas. They can relive any period of their life already lived. "Now the frustrating thing about the current technology is that you can't be an actor in the scene, only an observer." If you could go back in time in a manner like this (from the comfort of your own home) would you do it? And which period would you pick. The father and daughter in this story are so addicted to their relive box that it takes on a life of its own. The mantra becomes "reset" as happy, or not so happy experiences are lived over and over again. To the exclusion of real life being lived in any real way.
I'm often nostalgic about my childhood, but I am not sure I would want to relive any of it. It would certainly be a curiosity, but to the exclusion of living my life now. Then again, in stressful moments I might want to go back to happier moments. Hmm.