Pros: Crocodile conga lines. Logophile’s dream. Rampant potential for “that’s what she said” jokes. Rampant potential for terrible puns....moreTo summarize:
Pros: Crocodile conga lines. Logophile’s dream. Rampant potential for “that’s what she said” jokes. Rampant potential for terrible puns. Barry Manilow. Euphemisms. So multicultural. Pirate frogs. Rum. Talking animals. Taking everything out of context.
Cons: Frog psychic wrapped in ragged fox fur - PETA cries, foxes die. Bugs. Gregor Samsa. Ear sex. No lols. Strange analogies. Train vagina visuals. Sexually Transmitted Tattoos. Elitism.
Usually book cover summaries are so trite and boring that I only get about a sentence in before I abandon ship and just start reading the book instead. The summary of Catherynne Valente’s Palimpsest, however, was brought to my attention by a friend, and flat out wins the “I hope my friends, extended family and acquaintances don’t see me reading this” and “I’m too embarrassed to even check this out at the library because the librarian is going to think I’m a freak” summary award.
I won’t detract from the… unique summary by explicating the whole thing here. Instead, let me introduce you to my new favorite phrase from Catherynne (who shall henceforth be referred to as KitKat):
What, like Barry Manilow?
(Also, the phrase “lyrically erotic” makes me think of ear sex. I’m not sure what ear sex is. I am sure that I don’t want to know. Unless it involves Barry Manilow.)
I’d like to make a note here that if you’re not okay with debauchery and/or cannot stomach reading it, this book is not for you. Palimpsest is basically on a permanent bunny level of sexery.
Within the first page, the author uses big words to the point it seems like she wrote the book with a thesaurus at her side, or that she was one of those kids that almost won the Scripps National Spelling Bee and has a chip on her scapula and something to prove. I love it. (I also keep word lists. Multiple word lists. For funsies.)
The whole shebang starts off with a description of a factory and its workers. This actually ends up being pertinent later (much later). The author quickly goes off into a pretty-worded tangent. Rinse. Repeat. The description of the factory workers makes me have awesome visuals of crocodiles in a conga line with lunch pails. Read it yourself to find out why.
This is just the beginning of numerous visual imagery-laden scenes. KitKat loves her imagery. She rarely describes an entire scene, but instead narrows in on certain parts of it and then goes into minutiae. The rest is up to your imagination (which is great because my imagination is awesome).
There is a recurring scene involving a fortune telling frog in fox fur. (Is a frog wearing fur toadally wrong? At least it’s not wearing tadpoles!) Apparently, there’s some sort of freaky bonding thing that happens to whatever four people happen to sit in the frog’s “fortune chairs” with you, which are more or less the “entrance” to Palimpsest (I say more or less because there’s something else you have to do first).
I like to picture them sitting in something like this. But red.
Also, the phrase “smells of sassafras and rum” was used in one of these little rendezvous, the latter half of which makes me think of Captain Jack. I now like to imagine the fox fur-wearing fortuneteller frog as fox fur-wearing fortuneteller pirate frog.
In case you haven’t guessed by now, animals can talk in Palimpsest. It’s like an R-rated Disney movie. Speaking of which, I’ve picked up another favorite phrase from a talking heron in the book, “I’ll trample you thoroughly, see if I won’t!”
There end up being four *semi-main characters – Sei, the blue-haired chick (trains really steam her engine); November, the beekeeper who likes to get beesy in Chinatown; Oleg, a man with a passion for locks (cue Louis XVI jokes), written by an author with a passion for making everything somehow sexual; and Lucia, the bookbinder’s wife. I can’t think of any good innuendo involving bookbinding right now, but you can go ahead and imagine that I did.
*I say “semi” because the book eventually ends up narrowing in on one particular character, though it’s pretty evenly split in the beginning of the book. Also, the main “character” of the novel arguably isn’t even a person at all.
They all get into Palimpsest by having sex with someone who’s already been and then going to the pirate frog fortuneteller. They must have more sex to get around the city. Everyone who has been to Palimpsest is marked with some sort of dark tattoo-like thing. I just visualize this, because it makes the whole thing more entertaining:
After you find all of this out, the book suddenly turns into a war novel, which is somehow connected to the factory, which somehow connects to one of the aforementioned main characters, who becomes the focal point of the story. I won’t ruin the surprise for you (even though I want to). Chaos (and sex aplenty) ensues. Interestingly, it also turns into an addiction novel, of sorts.
Basically, the book has all the mindfuckery of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy with sex instead of funny, which leads us to the main shortcoming of the book – its relative lack of humor. Barely a joke was cracked. A few pithy side comments here and there, but no witticisms so great as to warrant you stealing it and telling your friends you came up with it yourself (you know you do it, too).
If I had to chose one word to describe this book: Sexcellent.
But really. While there were certain aspects of the book I found unnecessary if not leaning towards slightly distasteful, I cannot deny that this was an interesting read.
One thing that consistently irked me was the narrator breaking the fourth wall. It seemed trite, awkward, and unnecessary, and generally served to mar what was otherwise a very fluid novel.
On the other hand, KitKat has an incredible knack for anthropomorphism. In many cases, she quite literally humanizes animals and inanimate objects in a way that almost makes you feel more sympathetic to them then the actual human characters. She also manages to create a transient, not quite lucid, dream world which is every bit as ungraspable, ephemeral, and addictive to the reader as it is to the characters in the book. Despite all the horizontal limbo-ing going on with the main characters, the book still manages to be beautiful, in its own unique way. I would recommend it. (less)