Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Angela Carter, Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces (1974)

NOW THIS IS MORE LIKE IT. It's Carter's first short story collection--though not, it's worth noting (or maybe it's not worth noting, but let's do it anyway), her first short stories: she published three in her early twenties that remained uncollected until Burning Your Boats, her almost-complete collection: "The Man Who Loved a Double Bass," "A Very, Very Great Lady and Her Son at Home," and "A Victorian Fable." Let's just note that they're the worst things she ever published and move on. As for this collection, in her afterward she says that she "started to write short pieces when [she] was living in a room too small to write a novel in." This was when she was living in Japan, though we should note that she also wrote The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman there--maybe she found more spacious living quarters between these and that (the novel was published before the stories, but of course could've been written after).

Of the nine stories here, three are memoir-ish, Proustian reminiscences by a protagonist who, we can only assume, is extremely Carter-esque, of her time in Japan, and her involvement with a Japanese man. These, I have to admit, I found to be of limited interest. Also not so great is the last story, "Elegy for a Freelance," about revolutionaries in a vaguely-defined revolutionary London. However, the other five are dynamite--or, if not dynamite, then some kind of brightly-colored explosion. Like something you might see in the sky, say. If only there were a word for something like that. How impoverished is our language!

But anyway, they're really fucking great. Hard to say which is my favorite--possibly "Master," a brutal, hallucinatory deconstruction of the "great white hunter" archetype. Or maybe "The Loves of Lady Purple," about a traveling showman who performs a lurid puppet show (and no one does lurid like Angela Carter) with the title, uh, puppet. Is the title of "The Executioner's Beautiful Daughter" purely a take-off of the Incredible String Band's album The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter, or is there a common source? Regardless, it does a lot with a limited premise. It may possibly be the case that the central metaphor in "Penetrating to the Heart of the Forest" is a bit too obvious--it sure ain't subtle--but it's kind of amazing anyway. And in spite of its generic-sounding title, "Reflections" is anything but, taking the idea of a backwards mirror world and doing really bizarre things with it. It's possible that, had she lived longer, Carter's dominant short story mode of deconstructing cultural mythology might have gotten old. Or maybe not! It is a truly crushing shame that we'll never find out. This stuff is great, though.

So now, there are only three (3) Carter books left to read (not counting miscellaneous journalism, poetry, children's books, and radio plays, which I may get to someday, but which for now don't seem terribly vital), and they're her best-known and regarded: the short story collection The Bloody Chamber, and her last two novels, Nights at the Circus and Wise Children. My expectations are so sky-high that, paradoxically, I'm feeling a little trepidation: they wouldn't have to be very disappointing to disappoint me deeply. But, c'mon, how likely is that? I fully expect my anticipation to be more than justified. Let's DO this thing!


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