Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Kudzu and Pills

I'm sure doing a lot of reading these days. As a change of pace to-day, I read the new Sirenia Digest which includes Caitlin R. Kiernan's new Dancy Flammarion novella called Tupelo (1998). I was going to remark on the clues in the story that let the reader know it's set in the late 90s but I realised just now it's in the title. Maybe that's appropriate since a story about a girl whose attempts to figure out what's going on are constantly thwarted by perceptions distorted by forces from without and within--and then there's the hazy line between which is which, and which is intentional and which isn't. It's a good story.

I love that it's set in '98 and here we've come to the point when something set in the 90s is a period piece. Good grief, time moves too damned fast. Caitlin refers to an old tube television and the fact that CBS not airing The Wizard of Oz was news. Those days when everyone had to pay attention to when things aired on television in order to see it. Now we all programme our own channels, one can argue we've lost something that came with being a society set to the same media clock.

Dancy Flammarion is a character who's appeared in multiple works by Caitlin R. Kiernan. I first encountered her in the novel Threshold and then in other novels and short stories. There's a comic book series, also written by Kiernan, I haven't had a chance to read (generally speaking, comics are too expensive a habit for me and I refuse to pirate books). An albino girl who wanders the southern U.S. on missions from an angelic being who might or might not be a hallucination, stories of Dancy are often about the fuzzy place between a character's hallucination and actual supernatural occurrence. Even when they're from Dancy's point of view, we're invited to make our own judgements about her judgement, her preoccupation with sin and Christian beliefs suggesting she may not see very clearly.

Tupelo (1998) presents an older Dancy now living in a hot apartment and paying visits to one of the most obnoxious psychiatrists I've ever heard of. The poor girl divulges how she likes the sounds of trains and the psychiatrist unpacks it to mean something about home sickness and I really can't blame Dancy for being wary of everything she says to the woman.

In addition to being a fascinating portrait of unreliable perception, it has great atmosphere, having the flavour of the south as it appears in good fiction (not as I've experienced it in real life). I particularly liked a car ride Dancy has in the story with a man I'm pretty sure is the Bailiff, another recurring character from Kiernan's stories. The title seems to be a reference to a song by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and knowing it contributes a nicely to the tone of the story.

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