When I picked up Cherie Priest’s I Am Princess X, it was on the advice of a trusted bookseller for a (then) thirteen-year-old friend of mine. Then an older reading friend raved about it too. At last, I picked it up, and was pleased to find it was my first RIP read.
There is a dark current running beneath the novel throughout. Little snippets of the narrative hint at this without spoiling the story: ”
Like this. “That’s what they say everytime they catch a serial killer. Either nobody’s paying attention…or ‘normal’ is much, much worse than everybody thinks.”
And this. “Everyone looks down for things that are hidden. Everyone looks in holes, in drawers, in trunks, and in basements. That’s why the best pace to hide is up high – evern if it’s in plain view. Nobody ever looks up, except people who’ve done a lot of hiding of their own.”
But ultimately the power of the novel is more broadly based. It is an adventure story, a surprisingly compelling one too, but it is about friendship most of it. And about the power of stories themselves.
“Were they talking in code? Perhaps. But all they had in common was this story, and if the story held all the signs, all the words, then that’s what she’d use. ”
And not just for the reader, for the teller of tales as well. “It was kind of like therapy, maybe, telling the story, and drawing again. It gave me power.”
Libby and May are terrific characters, credible and gutsy and vulnerable and funny. And even though I really don’t need to add to my list of series to finish, I hope that Cherie Priest plans another in this vein.
The novel which I began to coincide with this event was George Elliott Clarke’s George & Rue, which retells the story of a taxi driver bludgeoned to death in 1940’s New Brunswick, Canada and a subsequent hanging.
This was a beautiful and brutal choice and one which must be discussed in detail in another post.
It is atmospheric and moody: “The winter was already bruisingly bitter. That ice-daggered wind slashing into Cynthy’s face while she dragged squalling Georgie and sullen Rue onto the yard of Alisha’s rough and uncouth house, painted charcoal black, with her ghost-callin bottles hung on the branches; a dog slobbering, pissing like a horse, and yowling blackly and pulling at the heavy chain that held it back; and Alisha’s horse tethered weirdly to a railroad track switch plunked down ex-nowhere.”
It is dark and unsettling: “A white devil moon haunts the black 1949 brand-new four-door Ford sedan when a black hammer slip out a pocket and smuck the taxi driver’s head, from the side. Not just a knock-out blow, the hammer was a landslide of iron. It crashed down unnervingly.”
It is poetic (of course, because the author is a poet): “Imagine the blood aquariuming Silver’s brain. The resistless hammer squashing the egg of the brain, its lobster-paste merde, its waspish humming. Then a dynamite of pain. Imagine the whiplash of the hammer, the sizzle of it against the skull, the brilliant cum of blood, accumulating redness, almost like a cloud, and the sussurus of pain, molesting, eclipsing, his nerves. The whinnying blood. Silver’s last breaths making a noise like hardwood cracking. To make his skull a bloody egg, smashed open like a piñata, consciousness seeping out, sparkling.”
It is complicated: “Ultimately, this novel conducts a tryst with biography. Perhaps the dual impulse to creativity and violence in my own genealogy serves to illustrate the Manichaean dilemmas of the African odyssey in this strange American world.”
It is startlingly extensive for a two-hundred page novel: “What neither Asa nor Cynthy knew was how much their personal destinies were rooted in ancestral history—troubles. Their own dreams and choices were the passed-down desolations of slavery. African Nova Scotia and, specifically, Three Mile Plains were the results of slave trade and slave escape.”
In other novel reading, I’m continuing with Greg Iles’ mystery, The Bone Tree. Most of the characters from the last volume are still featured here, but one, which I was attached to, is not. This doesn’t affect my commitment to have the story resolved, but I’m not as interested in the broader plot.
Intersecting with a major conspiracy in American history, I can see where this volume would be of intense interest to some readers, but it’s as much about the individual stories for me, in particular some hate crimes dating to the 1960’s which I’m keen to see solved. Readers learned in the last volume who was responsible for these, and there has been plenty of additional evidence to support that finding, but the political machinations are complicated.
What initially drew me to the series was an episode of the CBC Mystery Panel on “The Next Chapter” with Shelagh Rogers, in which one of the participants explained that he had read the entire book in about 24 hours. Another member of the panel seconded that enthusiasm, and I was hooked, even more so when I saw just how big those 800 pages look in person. (Nonetheless, I don’t find the story quite that riveting. Or, alternatively, I have other more pressing library duedates than this one.)
Steven Price’s By Gaslight begins with a heavily atmospheric chapter. “He entered banks with his head low, his eyebrows drawn close, his huge menacing hands empty, as if fixed for strangling.”
The setting is suitably eerie when viewed from this perspective. “He loathed London. Its cobbled streets were filthy even to a man whose business was filth, who would take a saddle over a bed and huddle all night in a brothel’s privy with his Colt drawn until the right arse stumbled in.”
Business in London is messy: “Wading through the night’s fog, another man’s blood barnacling his knuckles, his own business in London nearly done.”
And the long (“…long scar in the shape of a sickle running the length of her face”) and short of it is that the “[w]orst way to keep a secret is to write it down.”
Two other novels which I’ve read also fit the event and also will be discussed in greater detail in other posts: Shari Lapena’s The Couple Next Door (2016) and Iain Reid’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2016)