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Greer Gilman's Cloud & Ashes

Actually, it’s “Unleaving,” the third and largest part of Cloud & Ashes, that I read. I’d read the earlier parts, “Jack Daw’s Pack” and “A Crowd of Bone,” so I had developed a method for reading Greer’s stuff. Some people may be able simply to read and apprehend, but I’m not one. If I try that, I think the officious Organizer part of my brain tries too early, too simplistically, and too hard to impose a pattern, and that won’t work. I have—and maybe you have, if you try Cloud & Ashes—to read the way I dream. Just let it happen. Just let the words flow by. Enjoy them (marvel in them), or dread them, the way you enjoy or dread things that happen in dreams, and before you know it, you have the sense of it. The story has opened up for you, dreamwise.

And it’s a real story. It’s not arbitrary or capricious, the way dreams can sometimes be. There is a pattern, but it’s like Celtic knotwork. The story is deep and strong and dark—almost too dark, for me, in ways. Let’s just say the milk of humankindness is not overflowing, here. But that’s not to say the story is dreary or hopeless. It can be cruel or terrifying, but it is never dreary, and there is always hope.

“Unleaving” was much longer than either “Jack Daw’s Pack” or “A Crowd of Bone.” In itself, it’s a novel, though it’s only one of the three portions of Cloud & Ashes. In some ways this made it harder, for me. I felt at some points as trapped in Cloud—the name of the land in which most of the story takes place—as Margaret, the heroine. Sexual violence pervades all three tales, but “Unleaving” is the longest, and it’s just that much more present in “Unleaving.” Though to say “sexual violence” doesn’t really do justice to the importance of it for the stories. It has to do with generative power, creation, the desire to control or destroy that. It’s not the rape that you get on CSI: Special Victims Unit; it’s the rape that you get in myth. But because Greer makes myth real and immediate, played out by people we care about, it’s painful, awful.

And the full significance of the cosmogony of this world really bore down on me, reading “Unleaving.” It had been terrifying in “A Crowd of Bone,” with Thea, the goddess who can’t escape her fate and dies dreadfully, but in “Unleaving” you could see how it soaked into everyday life for people in Cloud.

But there’s a truth that the cosmogony gets at that can’t be avoided. Nature is beautiful, wondrous—but cruel, too, pitiless: demands death at times.

What made the whole not only bearable but transcendent for me was the climax and the conclusion, as time wove in on itself, and characters wove in on one another—characters from the edges of the world and from the past—and people’s cosmogonic roles and their in-time lives slid together like stereopticon pictures, and the characters changed the pattern of life forever. It was a tour de force, a true marvel.


Dec. 8th, 2009 08:07 pm (UTC)
It's all you, Nine. You call, the answer comes :-)

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