Thursday, September 20, 2012

John Crowley, Dæmonomania (2000)

This is the longest book in the sequence by some margin; at five hundred nine pages, it's actually one less than Love & Sleep, but it makes up for that with substantially smaller print.

It's fitting, I suppose, because this is the book in which it really came home to me just how fiendishly intricate this whole contraption is.  There are pieces, both large and small, suggesting equivalences between past and present and emphasizing the way that different people experience all this tumultuous metaphysical change that may or may not be taking place.  As I read, I felt like I should be taking notes.  But I didn't, and as a result, I would assuredly need to go through the book again to have anything like a full grasp on the material.

Summarizing all this?  Again, not easy, but the focal point must be Rosie's young daughter, Sam, who is also in some obscure way the angel Madimi who speaks to John Dee.  Sam is starting to have seizures, or rather started to have them in the previous volume.  This obviously causes great distress to Rosie, and Sam is given medicine to hopefully ameliorate all this.  But in the meantime, there's also Rosie's ex-husband, Sam's father, Mike, who had become involved with this somewhat sketchy new-agey Christian group/borderline cult called The Powerhouse, members of which (who also include Mike's ex-girlfriend/Pierce's sort-of girlfriend Rose) believe that if they give themselves to God with sufficient sincerity and fervor, they can have literally anything they want--sort of a Christian version of "the secret."  The conflict that this causes is obvious: Mike and the leaders of Powerhouse believe that Sam's seizures likely have other causes, which are probably in some way demonic, and in any case will not be responsive to modern medicine.

That seems at least somewhat straightforward, comparatively speaking, but there are also any number of other vectors from which to approach this question of liminality.  For instance, this business of werewolves: in Love & Sleep, we see Pierce as a child reading about how back in the day, werewolves supposedly fought witches to protect people from the powers of Satan.  This is a real thing, or at least a thing that was really believed.  Now, at one point during the past sections of Dæmonomania, John Dee is called in to try to "cure" a young man (who had also briefly appeared in Love & Sleep) who is accused of being a werewolf.  Dee, being of modern sensibilities (and yet, he talks to angels--you see how thorny this gets?), is sure that this is all in the man's mind, but the man himself assures him that no, it's not--he really is a werewolf, and at night his spirit exits his body to fight witches.  

Fast forward to the twentieth century, and you have the supposed descendants of these werewolves, having lost the cultural context to understand what they are but still possessing lycanthropy, living in the United States.  One of these is Floyd Shaftoe, whose granddaughter, Bobby, had previously appeared as a young, unlettered girl in the opening section of Love & Sleep.  She grows up believing in this, and that she is the same as her grandfather--until she joins Powerhouse, which group tries very hard to convince her that, no, this isn't a real thing, or if it is it's demonic in a way that she had not previously understood.  So once again, you have this dialectic between two different modes of understanding the world.

Does it sound like I'm just babbling here?  Well, I am, probably, but it's really not easy to convey the myriad twists and complexities of a novel like this--and, it goes without saying, I've left a LOT out.  For whatever it's worth though, it's still pretty darned enthralling.  I'm actually not at all sure where the final volume is going to go; the stories, both past and present, seem all to have pretty well reached their conclusions.  You could not read The Solitudes or Love & Sleep without feeling that they were not complete in themselves, but this is not the case with Dæmonomania.  Nonetheless, I am very much anticipating the culmination of the series.  I'll report back once I've read it; it's short compared to this, so it should be sooner rather than later.


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