Today has been a wonderful day so far, though I admit I wish I’d got an earlier start on this part of it. But, my best friend’s dad (basically my second dad) is arriving in town today, so I prepped a big dinner and did some house chores. The next three hours or so will be dedicated to blogging and fiction, and it will have to be good enough.
Last night was the first meeting of Book Club session #3, and it didn’t go that well. Three of the five people didn’t show, though they all contacted me ahead of time. So, I’ll get into the meeting, and the book more tomorrow.
Today we’re here to discuss The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps.
I learned about this book from my friend and co-worker, Matt. He’s a well read mofo, and can be damn cerebral when it suits him. He can also spend hours figuring out Cookie Monster’s extended family based on geographical location (i.e. Curry Monster for India, Kimchi Monster for Korea, Sushi Monster for Japan, and Gravy Monster for Canada, etc.). His versatility never ceases to astound and amuse me.
Anyway, he read this book a few months back and raved about it to me. I added it to the Goodreads TBR list, and promptly forgot about it. Then, while perusing the library’s catalog for new Sci-Fi and Fantasy, it popped up. I put a hold on it, the only one to do so, and waited.
When I finally checked it out I was surprised at how thin it was. A whopping 212 pages. Immediately I had doubts. Fantasy this short meant that world building would be minimal, or character development would suffer to accommodate it. I wasn’t wrong…
But I wasn’t right, either.
The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps is such a strange, fantastical story that I find it difficult to write this review. There are so many conflicting elements in this story, things that threw me off and alienated me as a writer, but enthralled me as a reader. And educated me immensely as both.
Part luxurious prose that stands out in the genre, part Hip-Hop dialogue that definitely stands out in the genre, and part mythological ballad that brings it all together in this blur of whimsical and visceral language that finds its own rhythm and song.
It was really hard to get into at first, and my own insecurities didn’t help. All the characters in this book are black, as it takes place in what I believe to be (a possibly VERY distant future) Africa, and the main character, Demane, is gay to boot.
As Matt and I agreed, we are not the target audience of Wilson’s novel. And I worried that my distance from Demane’s experience might make it impossible to enjoy or even really understand what the book was trying to tell me.
What a silly notion. For sharing experience and encouraging empathy is the true magic and purpose of fiction.
Yes, at first, it was difficult to follow the exposition. And just when I’d found the rhythm, suddenly harsh and unexpected dialogue would throw me off all over again. Until, completely beyond my awareness, it all seamed together into one voice. By the end the telling of Demane’s story was as natural to me as listening to my stepmother speak. This book lilts in a similar way as her thick Brazilian accent does and it required as much willingness to listen as her voice does when I’ve been away for a long time.
I don’t want to go into actual details of the plot, because the way it all unfolds in the book is really important. Telling you a rough explanation of events would just ruin it, and do it absolutely no justice.
That being said, I fully expect to purchase a copy and reread it after I’ve had some distance from it. It’s a book whose ending will directly affect how you read the preceding passages.
The world building is thin. It’s not a focus of this book, but it is there. It also seems to be set on Earth, because there are enough familiar places to suggest it, but no real proof. But, the story doesn’t suffer from it. The character’s are even subtly built, with sparse and purposeful language.
This is a book that uses your whole brain, long after you’ve finished it. I’m glad it wasn’t longer, because it would have lost a lot of its impact by shedding more light on places and people. The bits that we get are given to us for a reason. This is writing that truly embodies the idea that every word must serve multiple functions, and it is beautifully done.
It’s this that has put Kai Ashante Wilson firmly on my list of authors to watch. I look forward to reading more of him. And you should too.
Until tomorrow Blogland,