Anyone who picks up Red Doc> expecting another Autobiography of Red is going to be disappointed--but disappointed in a good way. One of the joys of reading a new Anne Carson book is savoring its groundbreaking originality, and Red Doc> is no exception. Written mainly in narrow columns of sporadically punctuated verse, it continues the tragicomic, mythology-inspired romance of Geryon and Herakles, now named "G" and "Sad But Great." Like Autobiography of Red, the plot of Red Doc> is fairly episodic, driven by elliptical waves of language rather than dramatic incident, but the overall tone has changed. Emotion has been largely traded for thought, immersion for detachment, realism for absurdism, mythology for modernity. Whereas Autobiography of Red was a heartbreaking portrait of the artist as a young red man with wings, Red Doc> is an equally painful (yet surprisingly funny) snapshot of the disillusioned artist as a not-so-young man, who has come to prefer Proust to philosophy, comfort to adventure, irony to grief.
Carson's epigraph from Samuel Beckett ("Try again. Fail again. Fail better.") not only foreshadows the central characters' hopeless attempt to rekindle their relationship, but also sets the stage for the world of the novel as a whole. The barren landscapes, the absurd interactions, the surreal characters--everything seems to have wandered out of a Beckett play. However, Carson blends her unique imagination with Beckett's so seamlessly that his influence is never overpowering, always complementary. Not many writers could confront such a heavyweight precursor so effectively--let alone so directly--which reminds us again why she is considered one of North America's most powerfully original contemporary writers.
Chris Gilmore is currently pursuing a Masters in English and Creative Writing at the University of Toronto. He writes fiction, plays and screenplays.
It's unlikely that you'll have your hands on one of Basia Irland's Ice Books any time soon. The books are literally made of ice and my recommendations--Books XVII and XVIII—melted into the Muga River years ago. Nonetheless, I recommend BOOK XVII with its Spanish Broom seed text and BOOK XVIII with its wild fennel for the meditations on ecological restoration and duty to downstream neighbours that they give rise to.
Irland's ice books are temporal, sensual, living objects created and released in the spirit of bearing witness to human degradation of riparian zones and the climate crisis, which has serious implications for the fresh water of the world.
While Irland has traveled to many of the earth's aqueous arteries, the artist collaborates with community members to collect ice book water. People cooperate to collect water from multiple parts of a river. The collection engages the desire to restore riparian zones to health and speaks to the shared condition of living downstream.
Irland also collaborates with stream ecologists, biologists, and botanists on the Ice Books. Together they select the best seeds for the riparian zone in question. Seeds take root along river banks, help sequester carbon, hold banks in place, and shelter wildlife.
This fall, the people of Yellow Springs, Ohio will have access to a book carved from Ohio river water and inscribed with native river-side seed. Meanwhile, the rest of us have gallery showings and the crisp ice book images that festoon the author, poet, sculptor, installation artist, and activist's website.
Christine LeClerc is a Vancouver-based author and activist. Her research revolves around culture and energy. You can follow her on Twitter @xineleclerc.
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Dr. Aaron Schneider completed a PhD. in Canadian Literature at Western University where he currently teaches courses in public speaking, political rhetoric and Canadian Literature. He is excited about bringing together his interests in World and Canadian Literature. He is the co-founder and co-editor of The Rusty Toque and Western's online student journal Occasus.