shrew (n) :
1. "small mammal," O.E. screawa "shrew-mouse."
2. "peevish, malignant, clamorous, spiteful, vexatious, turbulent woman" [Johnson] c.1386, from earlier sense of "spiteful person" (male or female), c.1250, traditionally said to derive from some supposed malignant influence of the animal, which was once believed to have a venomous bite and was held in superstitious dread.

Synonyms: amazon, battle-ax, bitch, calumniator, carper, dragon, fire-eater, fishwife, fury, harpy, harridan, hell cat, hellion, hussy, madcap, muckraker, nag, ogress, scold, she-wolf, siren, spitfire, termagant, tigress, virago, vixen, wench

This blog features reviews of LGBT science fiction and fantasy, tales of the life of a freelance writer, the occasional meme, and pictures of cats. If any of this offends you, please press Ctrl+W.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Featured Author Fridays: Catherynne M. Valente

The author for today's Featured Author Fridays is the incomparable Catherynne M. Valente.

To introduce Catherynne M Valente, here is a review I wrote* for her book Palimpsest, which won a Lamda Award this year as well as being a finalist for both the Hugo and the Locus. Also, I thoroughly love this book.

A palimpsest is a parchment from which writing has been partially or completely erased so that it can be written over with another text. In her 2009 novel, Catherynne M Valente explores how history, community, and the human heart are all palimpsests, erased and written over again by experience. Valente’s lyrical style perfectly complements the fantastical subject, and she makes the urban fantasy genre itself into a palimpsest, erasing what went before and rewriting the genre with richer, more evocative images.

The novel explores the magical city of Palimpsest, a city where all manner of nightmare creatures live lives parallel to our own. There are fairy-sized tea shops, silent cathedrals for beast-headed beings, insect factories, living trains, canals of clothing. These unusual details might seem off-putting to the casual reader, but those hungry for unique visions will explore the city as eagerly as the characters themselves. The novel moves back and forth between Palimpsest and the real world, and Bantam was smart to mark the shift with different fonts to avoid confusion. Valente’s lush writing makes the Palimpsest sections read beautifully, capturing a city where the unusual reigns supreme. The reader is drawn into the dreamscape completely, and comes to love Palimpsest as the characters do. Like any kind of traveler, the reader explores the city, marveling at each new fantastical image Valente creates. The landscape of Palimpsest is truly a dreamscape, and Valente describes each architectural detail with a lyricism worthy of her phantasmagorical subject. The city of Palimpsest is so lovingly realized that the mundane world seems dull by comparison, a place of heartbreak, death, and missed connections.

Yet, Palimpsest is not just about the title city, but also about a group of four travelers from our world: November, a beekeeper from California; the Italian bookbinder Ludovico; a young Japanese woman with blue hair named Sei; and the Russian locksmith Oleg. Each of them runs to Palimpsest to avoid a personal tragedy. November escapes her own alienation, Ludovico the loss of his wife, Sei the death of her mother, and Oleg the ghost of his sister. By entering the dreamscape of Palimpsest, their heartaches and personal histories are scraped clean and written over with new experience. Yet traces of their tragedies remain in the fantasy realm of Palimpsest. November meets the Queen of the Insects, Casmira, the leader of Palimpsest, another sort of bee to commune with. Ludovico chases after the specter for his wife, and eventually finds absolution for his sins. Oleg likewise chases his sister’s ghost, and is forced to confront his own demons in the process. Sei, obsessed with trains, finds echoes of her mother’s ghost in the animate trains of Palimpsest. Each character, though running into the dream city to erase their pain, finds it reflected by the city, transmuted into nightmare. Their experiences in Palimpsest allow each character to work through their tragedies, transforming their lives.

In turn, Palimpsest marks each of the would-be immigrants both mentally and physically because once they enter, the travelers are literally inked with a section of the city’s map. They carry a part of Palimpsest with them forever, indelibly inked onto their skin. These map tattoos become both a badge of honor and a scarlet letter for those who have been to the city. As the characters find others with the tattoos, they get drawn farther into the world and politics of Palimpsest. These tattooed travelers need each other to enter Palimpsest not only out of a need for community, but because that is the secret way into the city: one must sleep and dream after a night with another traveler, one with the map on their skin.

*Review originally published in HUMID, the Undergraduate Literary Journal of Stephen F Austin University, Vol 2  2010.

Be sure to check out her newest novel, The Habitation of the Blessed.

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