Like most members of my Clarion class, I’m reading some books by the 2009 instructors. The first one I finished was Elizabeth Hand’s Generation Loss.
There are many things I could say about it, but a few stand out:
- Normally I can’t stand reading POV characters who are self-destructive and do rotten things; it makes me feel icky to be in the head of someone like that, and I typically close the book. But Cass, the protagonist of GL, is exactly such a person, and I could not stop reading about her. And EH reminds you, over and over, that Cass is self-destructive and a bad girl, fairly late into the action, and it makes her more compelling. I’m trying to figure out why — maybe it’s because we long so badly for her redemption, and keep reading to see if it will happen?
- EH knows when to use lush description and when to be spare and telegraphic. There are bleak Maine landscapes she describes as if she were a painter (Cass is a photographer), yet a traumatic, crucial rape scene is done in just a few careful brushstrokes. Both of these things are exactly right for the character (Cass loves the landscape, is afraid to remember the rape).
- When you’ve got three central characters named Cassandra, Aphrodite and Griffin (Gryphon), are you being heavy-handed with your symbolism? I don’t think so, because it’s far from obvious what she intends the symbols to mean here. I’ll bet there’s some relationship between C and A in mythology that I don’t fully remember — my memory is that C’s punishment came from Apollo.
- This book further convinces me that genre borders are nonsense. You could classify it as a "literary novel" (or "Late 20th Century American Naturalism," as Michael Chabon likes to call it), as a thriller, as a murder mystery.
At any rate, a compelling, thrilling book.