Catherynne M. Valente, |
(Subterranean Press, 2015)
That's the world Catherynne M. Valente has created in Speak Easy, a novella that puts her way with colorful phrases on artful display.
This book is a pleasure to read for the atmosphere it creates and the mood it evokes. Valente peoples the hotel Artemisia with amazing, fantastical characters, too, most of which cross some line between human and otherworldly in some way, large or small. Foremost among them are Zelda Fair, the "it" girl of the tale, and Frankie Key, a bellhop with aspirations and secrets.
The problem with this story is the lack of a plot to knit the characters and place settings together. The book lurches along, knocking the reader over the head with gorgeous purple prose -- one of those rare exceptions where a florid style truly suits the pages -- but never really provides a point for what they're doing.
Perhaps the fact that they're doing it is reason enough.
The novella is hyped as Valente's adaptation of the fairytale "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," but it's not, really. Her earlier work, Six-Gun Snow White, was also less than a faithful reinterpretation of the source material, but that was still more recognizable for what it was.
Here's a sample of Valente's descriptive writing, detailing the atmosphere at the Artemisia and its decidedly anti-Prohibition attitudes toward alcohol.
Nobody came out without their sequins roaring. Hell, without sparkle, you were as good as naked in the Artemisia. And, oh yes, King Gin and Queen Whiskey and their little bouncing baby Champagne showed up first and left last. Screwing in the bathroom, dancing on the tabletops, giggling on the rug.
That, friends, was exhausting to read, exhausting to type. And the whole book's like that, told in a breathless voice that never pauses for air.
Like I said, I enjoyed it for what it was. I would have liked something more concrete among the glitter -- and, given what's here, I think maybe Valente could have cut it down a few dozen pages -- and I think the ending came rather abruptly, transforming giddy fantasy into something dull and hard. But still, go ahead and read it just for a taste of Valente's vivid prose.
book review by
13 February 2016
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