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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.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 8th, 2009 03:41 pm (UTC)
How lucky to have an ideal reader--you--and through technology to share that ideal reading with the author.
Think what it would have meant to, say, the Brontes to have this experience. Or to Emily Dickinson.
Dec. 8th, 2009 03:55 pm (UTC)
Oh I know--I think about that all the time. We really are *lucky* to be able to connect like this. It's certainly transformed my life.
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 8th, 2009 05:15 pm (UTC)
Re: a hard go
As you know, this **was** a hard go for me--though I think as much because of the way I was forced to read it as from the work itself. And, I think I'm better, in general, with things from Greer that can be consumed in small doses. And yet, when I got to the last portion of "Unleaving," I was really dazzled.

There is something very Mandos-like about the work, actually. The same sort of inexorability, which I actually kind of fear. I like a bolt hole, I like the notion of being able to hide, but from Mandos, or in Greer's world, there's no hiding.

I would like to think/hear more about Annie Dillard's idea about death being personal. Does she mean it just in the sense that, for any individual, death is personal? Or does she mean it in a larger sense, do you think? Or maybe I should ask, how does it seem, from your reading of her?
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 8th, 2009 06:56 pm (UTC)
Re: making/remaking
creation is "founded" in violence.... and yet. she says, in counter to simone weil, "it's all grace."

Dec. 8th, 2009 11:12 pm (UTC)
Re: making/remaking
i've thot of maybe trying an audio book.

I would love to make one. Listeners have come up to me after readings and said, "Oh, now that I hear it, it makes sense." I would love to widen that circle.

Dec. 8th, 2009 07:38 pm (UTC)
I'm speechless. All I can think of now is Hopkins: "for that I came." I wrote words; you saw the "dragonflies draw flame."

Dec. 8th, 2009 08:07 pm (UTC)
It's all you, Nine. You call, the answer comes :-)
Dec. 8th, 2009 08:08 pm (UTC)
Oh, is this the one you were talking to me about that one time? It sounds fascinating.
Dec. 8th, 2009 09:15 pm (UTC)
cooould be....

I'm thinking of at least two other things it might have been. There's A Book of Tongues, but I'm reading that on the computer (nearly done! Next review up!), and then there's Gott'im's Monster, the one I read before.

LOL, it's not the book group book, that's for sure. Which, like, don't mention by name, okay, cause book group is on Friday... OH NOES.....
Dec. 11th, 2009 06:29 pm (UTC)
Oh, well said!

nineweaving sent me, to gather goodies for her web site - but we've read the same book, you and I, and you express it so well.
Dec. 11th, 2009 06:33 pm (UTC)
I'm very glad!
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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