The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan is a beautiful circuitous story about haunting, mermaids, werewolves and art.
The narrator, a woman named Imp, is schizophrenic and she’s telling the story of the two times she met Eva Canning, a ghost or mermaid or werewolf. She doesn’t tell the story straightforwardly, and that’s part of how it all works. The chronology gets all messed up and she berates herself for procrastinating, and there are short stories that fit into the mix. It’s beautiful, but you have to give up desire to have things clearly laid out for you. If you can do that, the language and thoughts about art and suicide are all very very worth being haunted by.
I can’t remember exactly the last time I read a book like Alex Miller’s Prochownik’s Dream. It’s in the literary fiction genre, where relationships are so tenuous and delicate and there’s nary a second moon to be seen.
Toni is an artist, supported by his wife. He hasn’t painted since his father died, instead doing installations that pass without comment. The book opens with him envying his 4 year old daughter’s confident line in her unskilled crayon drawings, wishing he could do something again.
Then old artist friends return to Melbourne from Sydney and he begins painting again, inspired. The book is about how an artist doing what he is meant to do doesn’t necessarily have a good effect on those around him.
I was impressed with the language used in the book. Miller talks about painting in a way that makes Toni’s passions make sense. Also, so many of the cheap and easy ways to deal with the conflicts set up in the book are deftly avoided, as are the clean resolutions. I really liked this, and it was my first real bit of Australian literary fiction wile I lived in the country. Thanks to Rob, my coworker at Prosentient, for the going away present.