Sunday, January 31, 2016

Revised Nebula Ballot: Beauty Is a Wound

I have revised my Nebula ballot to remove Laurus from the Novel category and replace it with Beauty Is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan. It sits very comfortably in the tradition of magical realism. It begins with a prostitute rising from her grave after 21 years, and ends with an invisible lover falling prey to a revenge murder. Along the way, a courtesan learns to fly, a gangster ascends to heaven by attaining meditative moksha, and a thousand communist ghosts torment their murderers. Yet for long passages, it could be read as a fairly straightforward family drama in a historical setting, the setting being Indonesia over the course of the 20th century. Its primary weakness is that it is a touch too long, a weakness that it shares with Laurus, both opting for a synoptic view of history rather than narrative economy. Ultimately my preference comes down to being more interested in 20th century Indonesia than 15th century Russia, and preferring communist ghosts to holy fools. Here is what they do to the warlord who masterminded the local execution of what was, in 1965, a nationwide mass murder of millions:
For years after the massacre he experienced terrible insomnia, and then when he finally did fall asleep, he suffered from sleepwalking. Communist ghosts were out to get him all the time, even sabotaging him at the trump table and making him lose again and again. Their constant annoyances were driving him insane--he'd often put his clothes on backward, or walk out of the house in his underwear, or go home to the wrong house. Or he'd think that he was making love to his wife but it turned out that he was fucking the toilet hole. The water in his bathtub would turn into a sticky pool of blood, and upon investigation he'd discover that all of the water in the house, even the water in the teapot and the thermos, had also suddenly thickened into dark red blood.

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