Friday, April 22, 2011

Book Review - Losing the Light by Brian Cartwright

Here we are with another book review. I know, I used to do something besides these but reading books is about the only recreation I get these days that would be interesting or appropriate to write about on this blog. That and somehow they just seem more relevant. Like I guess I could review the TV episodes from six months ago that I just caught up on, or the old movie I just saw, stuff like that. Some day maybe if I feel like people care enough about my opinion that even though everyone already saw this movie or show or whatever last year and already decided what they think about it they still want my take on it. Sort of like how some actors can read the phone book (or Lady Gaga lyrics, which are about as interesting and coherent). If I get to that point where I figure people want my opinion on everything you'll know about it because I'll either be an insufferable asshole or you will be rapt with attention as I tell a funny story about mowing my lawn. Actually opinions will differ, I'm sure, so probably both will be true to some extent. Watch for the T-shirts with my picture on them, that'll be the key.

If you can't tell I'm itching to do something different. I'm still working on the idea and will let you know. It's the kind of thing that will either make Charlie Sheen tell me that I'm obviously crying out for help, or get this blog bought by those people that commoditize internet memes for fun and profit

Anyway, today I'm reviewing the latest Atlatl Press release, LOSING THE LIGHT by Brian Cartwright.

Full disclosure: Brian Cartwright and I have been friends for quite a while. Now that I think about it it has been something like 15 years give or take. Goddamn that's a long time. Anyway I previously read galleys of this novelette 10 years ago or so, which come to think of it was the last time he was really active in writing.

There are lot of unusual things about this book, and in fact I think some unique things. I'll admit I'm not exactly a reader for William Morris so I could be wrong but this book is unlike just about anything I've ever read in any genre. In fact it has no real genre, it may even have it's own (BC would say, BTW, that he draws his influences from the surrealist fiction that is more well-known in Europe, e.g. Gabriel Garcia Marquez). So whether you call it magical realism, fantasy, or bizarro I guess doesn't matter, but I will say that it totally ignores most of what I think are fast becoming the tropes of the bizarro genre. Those for another time, though.

In the 1970s of another earth where magic and monsters are real and no one really seems to give a damn about that, Cuban photographer Quique (kee-kay) Martinez, who specializes in erotic photos of unusual subjects like mermaids, goes on an adventure in search of inspiration. His journey takes him to the deserts of North Africa, where he battles monsters not only to save his own life, but his soul as well as his elan vital. He's at rock bottom creatively and questioning what the point of his photography is other than to keep him supplied with little cigars, rum, and travel vouchers.

The novelette opens with Quique playing golf on the back of a giant turtle in the South Pacific, which should tell you what you're in for. Throughout the book fantastical creatures are juxtaposed with features of the world of modernity (at least as it was known in the 70s). Sometimes this is to comic effect, sometimes depressingly mundane and sometimes damn heartbreaking. I will say that it's at times unclear if people in general understand that things like fairies are real or if the hoi polloi are generally unaware of their existence and only those who travel in certain circles are privy to this knowledge. Kind of like being in the celebrity club scene, you get to know a lot of things other people don't about famous people or the world in general. I think the latter is what Cartwright was going for but can't be sure. If so I like that idea as it's a different take on the usual "why don't people know vampires are real" type question and works well with the time period vibe. Like if you were to get into this world's Studio 54 you'd see Deborah Harry doing coke with Andy Warhol and a gay werewolf wearing a pink Chewbacca bandolier for laughs. That kind of thing.

My one regret with this book is its novelette length (fortunately the price is fair for both print and ebook versions). A relatively quick reader will blow through it in a matter of a couple of hours. This is an enjoyable passage of time, don't get me wrong, and Cartwright certainly achieves the entertainer's goal of leaving your audience wanting more. Sadly I kept feeling the balance could have been struck a little better. The trick is to leave your audience satiated, yet wishing they could take just one more bite. Sadly LOSING THE LIGHT is often a tasting plate for a menu that we don't get to order from. Dazzling images, interesting characters, exotic locales, all give a brief peep into a fascinating world. But you may freak out a little bit when you get to the end so maybe have another book or a Seconal handy.

Other than that, you know I hate to have nothing but positive things to say about a book, so what else was wrong with it? Mmm, some of the romance bits get a bit bathetic. It's not too annoying, though. There's one scene where Cartwright has two, three - or four? - mystical beings all show up at once like some poor kid dropped his sack full of Pokéballs and I got a bit confused as to who and what the fuck was going on. Fortunately the author clears that scene up a little bit after I started getting confused so it worked for me.

Overall this was an enjoyable read and a treat to see again after so long and see the improvements he made to it. It should tell you something that, not having seen it for so long, as soon as I started reading it I remembered practically the whole thing, the images will stick with you that much. I'm glad it finally saw print because I was convinced it would take the world by storm. It hasn't quite done that yet ...

But then, I did just tell you about it.

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