Lucius Shepard,
(Four Walls Eight Windows, 2002)

Lucius Shepard's Valentine won't be securing him a job with Hallmark. It's an often explicit description of a hyper-charged love affair between a single man and a married woman. Even the palmetto fronds participate as they lift and waggle "as if in vegetable ecstasy."

Russell is a freelance writer on assignment in Florida when hurricane weather strands him at a motel in a small town on the coast. In an example of synchronicity that is only the first odd little quirk in this short novel, he catches a glimpse of a woman he hasn't seen in six years as she enters the room next door to his. He soon nerves himself to knock on her door and it isn't long before their love affair re-ignites. Valentine describes the days that follow as the couple remains stranded, but not at all sorry about it. Their physical attraction is overwhelming and their love unfathomable. Shepard suggests supernatural intervention is as probable an explanation as any, sprinkling the story with unlikely, but not impossible events to make the point. A peculiar fog keeps the town isolated. An alien-seeming script is displayed on a pinball machine. Possible biohazard workers in white jumpsuits hail the narrator from the side of the road. He wonders why, but passes them without stopping. The strange events remain unexplained.

Given Shepard's skill and obviously fertile imagination, we know he's playing sly games. He'd have no trouble filling in the blanks. He could make the story work as fantasy, science fiction or mainstream. But the reader gets to choose his or her own interpretation of mysterious events and personal attractions. Some will find this challenging and satisfying. Some may feel cheated that the author didn't do the work for them. Put me in the first camp. Shepard is a terrific writer.

The book is written with his usual economy, care and striking imagery. The narrator was sure of his lover until, "Black birds with silver cataract eyes, settled onto the wires of my hopeful thoughts and plucked discords from them." Shepard always induces uneasiness -- the feeling that we have no control over events, other people or our own emotions. At any moment the Fates may produce hurricanes, biohazards or love affairs.

Valentine is smooth, hip and hard not to read in a single session. Strongly recommended.

- Rambles
written by Ron Bierman
published 15 February 2003

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