Inspired by a recent Elizabeth Hand interview, I went out and read her Cass Neary mysteries.
I was hoping for mysteries with weird elements, strange cults, and the occult.
And that’s exactly what I got. So, if your tastes run to that kind of thing, I highly recommend both.
I’ll first post reviews of Generation Loss and Available Dark and then do a follow up post for both books because there’s lots to talk about for those who don’t mind spoilers. [Update:
I’ve changed my mind on this and will, I hope, being doing an essay for Innsmouth Free Press on some aspects of these novels. The piece is now up at Innsmouth Free Press.]
Review: Generation Loss, Elizabeth Hand, 2007.
Say you’re a late 40s burnout, burdened by few ethics and no plans, with no lovers or friends, working a dead end job, fueled by drugs and petty theft.
Your one great talent is sensing the damage in others and devouring its final results, with your ancient Konica camera, like a crow eating road kill. The results were the pictures in the suitably titled Dead Girls, the book the briefly made you famous decades ago.
Then fate – or something just as sinister – gives you a chance to make some cash and meet an old idol, the reclusive photographer Aphrodite Kamestos.
So Hand sends her hero, Cass Neary, in the early years of our new century, off to a Maine in the beginnings of winter and already beset by economic depression and the decidedly mixed benefits of being discovered by rich outsiders.
Against a backdrop of meth heads and posters for missing people, she’ll meet the natives, the ones who still have some hopes of escape and the ones who have given up, and the transplants, mostly the remnants, like Aphrodite, of Oakwind, a failed 1970s commune.
Cass’ voice is distinctive, nihilistic yet capriciously caring, a pilgrim seeking the beautiful in bleakness and death. She’s the acquaintance or relative you don’t mind hearing from on occasion – as long as you can view the chaos of their life from afar.
And Cass goes, on that Maine coast and on its islands, from being a tagalong historian of death to its companion as she meets the very damaged survivors of Oakwind.
The end may seem a trifle too hopeful, the resolution a bit, as Hand slyly notes, Thomas Harris-ish, but the trip is bracing as an arctic gust. Hand shows, in her descriptions of junk palaces, abandoned statuary, and various photographs, that she’s good enough to need way less than the proverbial 1,000 words to equal a picture.
And who knew Mircea Eliade’s The Sacred and the Profane could be used so well in a thriller?