Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Ancient Child


On Amazon
My experience:
My mind is full, and I am heavy with disquiet, but this I will say: the writing is exquisite and entangling and engrossing; the characters baffling, beyond understanding, beyond knowing; the imagery -- oh! -- reminding me without preamble how, even as a child, I loved the vast, flat plains of Oklahoma.

This too: much of the language and context is coarse, lewd, sometimes terrible, and though many times I wanted to set the book aside and pick up another, something easier and lighter and less invasive, I could not. I picked it up to begin it, and I set it down complete.

The book:
... Well... it's complicated, see? I can't remember when I've had to concentrate -- to work -- so hard to simply understand a book.

Okay, so there are a whole bunch of sections, right? Chapters, in a way, but sometimes they're long and tell a story, and sometimes they depict a scene and sometimes they paint a picture. Sometimes they're poetry and sometimes they're prose.

Sometimes the chapter speaks from the point of view of Set, an artist and a man who hardly knows himself, who struggles with understanding his identity. Sometimes the sections are from the perspective of Grey, a "medicine woman" in training, and sometimes she has visions and sometimes she's daydreaming and most of the time you have no idea which is which. Their stories are meant to be interwoven, but there's no way to tell that or see it coming, not until it does happen, and at that point, there's no way to know how it is that Set seems to live ten years while Grey lives one, and then, when the story finally comes together, both stories woven close... I don't know if it ends happily or sadly or mysteriously or terribly.

I -- my brain aches.

The writing, however, is exquisite. I wish I would have kept a pad of post-its at hand because there are at least a half dozen passages I would have liked to have marked to read again and share and write on little slips of paper to use as bookmarks, to read again and be amazed again. Rather, I'll no doubt have to reread the book at some point in the future, this time with a better knowledge of what to expect from the story and with a pad of post-its to mark the beautiful passages that took my breath away and shook my brain and kept me turning the pages though I was already disquieted and burdened and baffled.

The verdict:
This is not a book to rate on a Netflix scale, but even if I had to invent a scale, ranging from a pole of "I want to pretend I've never heard of this book" to "I want my thoughts and speech to mimic every intonation and breath of this," I still wouldn't know how to rate this one. I can't say it's  5/5 because the story is too confusing and complicated, coarse and terrible, and if my mother or mother-in-law were to read it upon my recommendation, I might die of shame. However, the writing is beautiful. The setting is beautiful. The characters are fascinating and mysterious, and through the circuitous telling, I believe the story is mesmerizing. I'll affix a 4 out of 5 here and call it good enough.


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