Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Half Life by Shelley Jackson

A novel in which our own nuclear testing has created a population of conjoined twins who then are taken on as a minority cause politically. It's actually less of a political novel then it sounds and is much more about identity and memory and dollhouses. There are some astonishingly good descriptions and moments and an extraordinary extended metaphor of the fake houses set up by the bomb testers as life-size dollhouses. What I found interesting to think about as a writer was the way Jackson uses texts--The Siamese Twin Reference Manual among other things--as interruptions to the two main narratives (one in the present, one in the past). Now the idea of found texts helping to create the sense that this world is real is not unusual, but it seems to be becoming more common to use these texts separated out and alongside the narrative (as Jackson does) instead of incorporating them into the narrative (say as in Atwood's Handmaid's Tale-- that's not the best example, but it's what I could think of). The choice is neither good nor bad, though I found myself increasingly skipping the text sections to head back to the story. It just seems that if they're not going to be embedded in the narrative, they need to hold the reader's attention just as much as the narrative does.

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