Saturday, August 18, 2012

John Crowley, Love & Sleep (1994)

This is book two of Ægypt.  One of the back cover quotes--from Spin--declares that "John Crowley, I predict, will emerge as American lit's next Cormac McCarthy."  If you know my opinion of Cormac McCarthy--and HOW COULD YOU NOT WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU?!?--you will understand when I say that my only reaction to that is bite my shiny, metal ass.  Actually, I've been saying that a lot lately.  Mostly in reaction to the Romney campaign's foul emissions.

Tell you one thing: the first hundred fifty or so pages of this book, which treat in detail of Pierce's childhood, are just absolutely fucking brilliant.  The idea is that his mother left his father (who, it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize, is gay) when he was small, and the two of them moved from Brooklyn to rural Kentucky (yup, Crowley does like his rural locales) to live with her widowed brother, a country doctor, and his four children.  This part of the book is a perfect mixture of nostalgia and pathos, as the children react--in the literal, mechanistic way that kids will--to their Catholic upbringing, and all of them but Pierce especially first receive inklings of the sort of occult knowledge that will come to preoccupy him so.  I would not bet against some of his now-grown-up cousins appearing in the last two volumes.

Now, I enjoyed the whole of the book for sure; don't mistake that.  Crowley remains a great stylist, and the conceit of the series remains engaging.  But it's sort of hard to talk about because there really is very little concrete incident in the remainder of the book.  It may be that this is an intentional effect; it has become clear at this point that each volume in the series is to correspond to one season, The Solitudes having been Spring and Love & Sleep being Summer--so perhaps a certain kind torpor is thematically appropriate.  Still.  What we have a lot of is Pierce futzing around, having a sort of on-and-off affair with this Rose Ryder character.  There's a frankly bizarre bit where it turns out Pierce has a teenage son from a long-ago fling who comes to stay with him, only it quickly becomes apparent that this "son" is some mixture of an imaginary figment and an angel-ish thing of sorts (which ties in with the historical sections of the novel), in which various beings held to be angels apparently help John Dee and his associates.  It gets really weird, though, when he starts having an incestuous relationship with this son (note that there is no indication that he is otherwise sexually interested in men or underage people).  No doubt there's allegorical significance here, and no doubt Crowley could provide a plausible rationale for this, but there's no denying: it's still pretty odd.  

Speaking of the historical sections, they continue apace, Dee's story predominating over Bruno's.  This all has to do with the liminal historical period the characters are said to be living in.  There's a somewhat abstruse, allegorical section having to do with the effort by Dee and his assistant, Edward Kelley, to perform alchemy.  It must be said, Crowley is very, very good at describing the way these archaic scientific concepts and making them seem surprisingly plausible.  Yeah--sure.  The world could've worked like that at one point.  The books in this series are among those rare genre novels (another is Little, Big, and another is Doris Lessing's Re Colonised Planet 5 Shikasta) that so skillfully and vividly present to the reader an alternative epistemology of the world that you really start to wonder.

Anyway, as Love & Sleep ends, things seem to be starting up.  Is the contemporary world really in a state similar to the one it was in the late sixteenth century?  Guess we'll find out next time.  Or, more likely, we'll just get more questions.  The series does seem to be coming apart at the seams a bit--perhaps an inevitability in something as massively ambitious as this.  I'm still enjoying it a lot, though, and I'm looking forward to the next volume.


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