gothic wonder

I started reading Mary Modern yesterday afternoon, and read the last shudderingly delicious pages just before midnight. Lyric, gothic, and yet very new millennium, this book brings to mind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the host of “what if” reprogenetics fiction offerings that followed.

The central character, unloved geneticist Lucy Morrigan, successfully clones her grandmother Mary, who is “born” at the age of twenty-two with all the residual memories — but none of the actual experience — of her original. Lucy’s strangled fury at the spinning-out-of-control course of her life, combined with Mary’s blatant misery and the frantic interplay of the half-dozen secondary characters create a bizarre and fascinating brew.

My favorite writing technique was the DNA sequences between the chapters, which were interleaved with poetic random memory transcriptions. I would have loved more of this integrated into the chapters themselves, such that they did not all read quite so cleanly, but more like the increasingly disjointed lives of the characters. I also fervently wish DeAngelis had resisted the urge to throw in the (obligatory?) rabid preacher who hopes to clone Jesus. Please, does everyone have to do this?

But what a debut! DeAngelis has shown herself competent to stand among greats; her style is reminiscent of Margaret Atwood and Flannery O’Connor, both of whom excelled at revealing the most engrossing and repellent aspects of their characters in a manner which compels the reader to continue following down the twisted roads they travel. She also immediately brought to mind Katherine Dunn’s 1983 novel Geek Love, in which Dunn’s circus-freak character Arty establishes a religious cult which promises redemption through the self-amputation of fingers and other body parts.

Human desire, Irish mythology, gothic romance, dreams of Antarctica, cults and cult followers, multi-generational family dysfunction, and a stainless-steel “simwomb.” What more could one ask for, on a foggy moonlit night?

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