Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"Lovemaking laterns and detonating ink bottles"


As soon as I started perusing through the vivacious prose of this surprisingly delightful anthology of some of the most unusual cosmic folklore and tales I have ever encountered, Catherynne M. Valente was more than effective with the spell that she cast on me which at times feels like a precision instrument probing at the areas of my imagination that are better left untapped. It was an exhausting reading experience that kept me on my toes and amused me to no end.

Valente's literary machinations began with the titular poem which briskly established that this is going to be metaphysical examination of post-modern themes about Japanese folklore and obscure nerd culture. The Melancholy of Mechagirl in its entirety is a searing, uninhibited sensual experience. The prose makes love to you with unbridled energy and elusive mystic but the more you try to hold onto any logical semblance in each story, the more frustrated and unsatisfied you get. But that's the appeal of Valente's anthology, for sure. The constant personifications within the pages are staggering in quality; Valente enlivens dead things as if they have been breathing alongside us all this time and we just never notice. Much like the ancient people carve and interpret their deities with human qualities, Valente would usually imbue such careful passions into the most mundane objects with some of the most decadent symbolic meanings imagined.

Some of the most mind-boggling stories written in the most indulgent and luscious prose that ever existed are "Ink, Water, Milk", "Fifteen Panels that Depict the Sadness of the Baku and Jotai", "Thirteen Ways of Looking at Space/Time" and One Breath, One Stroke". They are focused on Japanese mythologies with a contemporary science-fiction spin. Fifteen Panels was a personal favorite because I was entertained with the autobiographical accounts of the Baku, a supernatural being who devours dreams and nightmares found in the Japanese lore. Thirteen Ways reads as collective anecdotes pertaining to the origin of the world based on different cultural accounts across the globe. Valente has a knack for vivid and pensive landscapes as well as uncomfortable illusions and musings infused in the characters that are barely human in scope.

The more self-contained stories have to be "Ghosts in Gunkanjima", "Story No. 6", "Killswitch", and "Fade to White". The first three are urban legends respectively about a haunted factory, a recurring phantom appearing in movies and an apocalyptic video game that might have been a gateway to the underworld itself. The last one is my most favorite of the anthology and deals with the advertising trends that gloss over the terrors of the second World War between the Americans and Japanese, and how a falsified image of home and perfection are the only modes of comfort and denial with the inevitable possibility of nuclear annihilation.

The three other poems in the volume (The Emperor of Tsukiyama Park, Memoirs of a Girl who failed to be born from a peach, and The Girl with Two Skins) are ludicrous but intelligently executed if not curiously witty. They definitely require a more vocal recitation by yourself if not multiple readings. The only stories which really puzzled me yet also annoyed me were "One Breath, One Stroke" and the novella at the end entitled "Silently but Very Fast".

It's safe to say that Valente's prose is much stronger and better appreciated when it has a lingering brevity as oppose to unstoppable verbosity since the latter characteristic certainly dissuades readers from fully engaging in the narrative, and if that happens, the quality then suffers and dwindles. Valente could be quite relentless with her self-indulgent imagery and in those two pieces, I was vaguely turned off from enjoying the tales she's trying to weave and unravel.

Still, this was entertaining and touching in many other areas and you should not miss out on what The Melancholy of Mechagirl has to offer.

RECOMMENED: 7/10
* A sizzling and absurd collection populated by the funkiest and saddest bunch of characters and themes in speculative fiction ever. The stories are all bundled up in shockingly engrossing prose packages that will chill the fertile areas of the mind.

No comments:

Post a Comment