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Tuesday, June 1, 2010


[See Parts 1 & 2 for my considerations of Lily's prose style.]

The plot of this book is fascinating: it spirals. There is a clear linear progression toward the Golden Tree and to and away from The Evolutionary Revolution. However, we keep going back and forward in subplots that run throughout the book. In short, we move forward at the same time that we spiral from side to side in subplots in this fabulist world populated by many subspecies of humans.

Before getting further into the implications of this book, we need to take a step back and consider the reading experience itself. The chapters are 1/2 to 2 pages long, and are often discontinuous. They leap about among four or five subplots. (This is the spiraling I spoke of earlier.) Lily is quite merciful with her reader in that she always gives good hints to resituate us into a plot when we suddenly return to it at the beginning of a new chapter. Now, the plots do (seem to?) come together in the end. One plot concerns an Emily who grows wings on her thighs, another the Sylvester twins, who are connected to each other and treated as freaks at circuses. And so on.

A larger mythic substructure asserts that the earth was once all fresh water, no land. The species we now call "man" lived in the sky and slept on the fertile moon. "Man" was all female. Down in the waters was a nasty, vengeful form of humanity, mermen. It would seem that they are all connected twins. For reasons not entirely clear, "man" becomes sexualized, then leaves the moon and attacks the mermen unmercifully, until they are all dead. What remains of them today is in the salt in the ocean.

How do we know such things? Through the poets, storytellers, and prophets, of course. But they are problematic. It was the poets' job to retain "the stories of the past in the various cavities of their bodies" (28). Politicians and wealthy families kept poets to help them with their affairs. There was only one problem. The poets were a jolly sort, lovers of mischief and "misconstrued facts." This means that one of the fundamental sources of knowledge about the past is unreliable.

Storytellers couldn't be trusted anymore than poets. And neither could prophets. So what we have is a fabulist society built on these myths that might be "full of shit" as Lily puts it. So what is this book? An elegantly written pile of shit?

Not entirely. It's also about connectivity. It's about the joy of stories, of language, "the symphony of disagreements" (229). Of wondering about the past and future of the planet, of us, of everything. Sometimes it's not the truth that matters so much, it's the webbings of stories upon stories, giving meaning, distraction, perspective.

Ultimately, it seems to me that Lily shows a humanity to be capable of incredible destruction and incredible creativity, a creativity not based on simple truth and fact-finding. But on the tussle of individuals, cultures, and societies in the disagreements and agreements.

As Lily points out, the scope of the environmental difficulties in front of us might not get addressed in time. But, then again, stories can take us most anywhere.

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