Elizabeth Hand,
Generation Loss
(Small Beer Press, 2007)

Elizabeth Hand is known for her dark, Gothic fantasy, but in Generation Loss she takes a grittier, more realistic turn that proves to be just as eerie.

As a young woman, Cass Neary was the darling of the Manhattan art scene for her stark, bleak photographs of the punk scene, but only until the next new thing came along. From there, her life spiraled downward in an ugly and self-destructive way, leaving her unremembered and alone over the ensuing 30 years.

A friend of hers who is also an editor offers her an assignment to interview Aphrodite Kamestos, a photographer who made her name in the 1960s and now lives a reclusive life on an island off the coast of Maine. Cass is interested in the assignment because Kamestos was an influence on her own photography, so she packs her bags and heads for Maine.

When Cass gets to the island, she learns that Kamestos had not agreed to an interview, but instead of going home, Cass decides to stay and find out what she can. Kamestos offers her a room, and Cass starts exploring Paswegas Island. She experiences the xenophobia from the insular island community, but she does find a few people who will talk to her.

Soon Cass uncovers an old mystery on the island that has something to do with the commune of which Aphrodite Kamestos was a member. Then she suspects that it is linked to the current mystery of disappearing teenagers, possibly through an artist named Denny.

The novel is filled with quirky and often unpleasant people. Cass is particularly unlikable; just when you think she has become more affable, she does something mean or manipulative or malevolent. This works as a self-preservation strategy. She does grow on the reader, and her plunge into heroism seems to be a transforming moment, although she manages to remain true to herself. Still, it is difficult to understand some of her actions.

This train wreck of a story is written so skillfully that the reader will find it difficult to put down. The multiple levels of mystery, the setting and the characters work together seamlessly. In Generation Loss, Hand proves that real life can be scarier and stranger than fantasy.

review by
Donna Scanlon

24 January 2009

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