Monday
Nov142011


The Vicious Red Relic, Love

By Anna Joy Springer


 

Jaded Ibis Productions
August 2011
978-1937543006

Reviewed by Melissa Chadburn


 

What's your saddest story?  Mine is that once I had a brother that was dying of AIDS and he lived in D.C. and I lived in San Francisco so I got a job as a stripper so I could see him one last time.  Three months of me being miserable and naked and mostly drunk and then I got robbed at the ATM and then I came home and our apartment was robbed too.  Sex toys, and latex garters, and costumes used for stripping and my grandfather's dog tags missing and I cried but I finally had the money to see my brother.  I called him. His roommate answered.  He had died a month before.  His last words were, "I'm not ready yet."

That is the saddest story of my life and Anna Joy Springer's story is even sadder.

Literary Vanguard, make room for the militant irony of The Vicious Red Relic, Love.  I love that I read this after reading Lidia Yuknavitch's Chronology of Water and Sam Lipsyte's The Ask because this "fabulist memoir" is a perfect combination of that juicy, sexy, gritty Acker-induced language and Lipsytesque irony. For example:

Again I'm not saying the oil company never killed its striking workers using hired mercenaries and importing other workers from refugee camps.  I'm not saying that's not true or morally relative.  I'm not saying maybe all the girls who got raped and otherwise violated by their dads, uncles, brothers, cousins, teachers, coaches, grandpas, and family friends are remembering a dream instead of a fact.  I'm not saying equal protection extends to those not needing protection.  I'm not saying facts aren't experienced.  And I'm not saying there're no absolutes.

This is what Springer refers to as "grotesques- creating hybrid texts that combine sacred and profane elements to evoke intensely embodied conceptual-emotional experiences in readers."

But really what is it? What is it about?  "It doesn't look like most books," my girlfriend observed. 

That's because it's not like most books. The Vicious Red Relic, Love is the story of a woman who falls in love with a woman who is HIV+ but doesn't tell her and eventually commits suicide, interwoven with Sumerian and Babylonian mythology.  The story takes place partially inside a burnt hole in a book of forests and partially above ground in San Francisco.  An elephant made of foil is used as a literary device throughout the novel.

Does that explain it? Let's just say that in life and in the novel there are many  forests.   So when little Jennifer plays with a box of matches and drops one on a book of forests a burnt hole develops and that burnt hole serves as a cave and we're let in.  For example:

The Forest of Myth and Stink

Long waits sometimes end in embarrassment.  Therefore, hiring a wait laborer to hold one's place in line is popular practice among the well-off.  It is not acceptable to ask the worker to bribe his way to the head of the line.  Still, an economy of illicit gifting has become rampant.

The Forest of Clashing Erotics

In the Forest of Clashing Erotics what makes you sick also makes you're body stiffen like a unicorn's magical prick, and you puke while you come, and the shame makes you hard all over again, makes you drip.  It's one big pity party stocked with therapists and daddies.  And it goes on far too long, but there's still some fuel left, still some flesh on the bone.

Codewords for Fucked in the Forest of Fucked

AIDS was laying itself down in beds, sucking on mints, pan-caking sores on its face, holding out its hands.  It went so far past overkill, it became a sparkling day of the dead, the campy apocalypse. Rich dykes were dipping themselves in black latex, like misshapen seals.  Skin was off limits.  Tasting the bitter grease between a woman's legs was like licking the ground in Chernobyl.  Blood was off limits.  But blood was so beautiful then, like a field of poppies, alive, just under the skin inside everyone.

The Forest of True Stories

 [the saddest and truest of all the forests the one that broke me open and made me decide to review this novel.  Made me want to teach this novel force feed it to my younger self pray for her love her give take give take give give give.]How had I come   to care whether I lived or not?  When had I changed, behind my own back?  How had I crossed over into the world of people who want to win, away from the ones like [Gil], who just can't take it one more god damned second? And why did it happen to me, not her?

Springer is able to occupy all spaces in this one novel: artist, anarchist, seductress.

She writes about sex, lust, passion, power so damn well, too damn well.  She doesn't separate any of it. She keeps it close. Tight and scary:

I will trip your body's most elaborate alarm.
I will split you into all the selves you ever were and all the ones you could have been, and I will kiss your temples.
Then, I will cup you in my hands and tuck you into a tidy spiral.
I will rub sweet cream and crushed poppy petals into your scalp, your belly, the base of your throat, the backs of your thighs, and the soles of your feet.
And because I want to, I will drop you, exhausted, into my mouth and suck you clean.
You will sleep there on my tongue, languageless and arm and known, and I will taste you while I dream of tasting you.
I will trip your body's most elaborate alarm.I will split you into all the selves you ever were and all the ones you could have been, and I will kiss your temples.Then, I will cup you in my hands and tuck you into a tidy spiral.I will rub sweet cream and crushed poppy petals into your scalp, your belly, the base of your throat, the backs of your thighs, and the soles of your feet.And because I want to, I will drop you, exhausted, into my mouth and suck you clean.You will sleep there on my tongue, languageless and arm and known, and I will taste you while I dream of tasting you.

 

If you're hungry for language, discomfort, and forgiveness, I highly recommend this book.