cover image The Hanged Man

The Hanged Man

Francesca Lia Block. HarperCollins Publishers, $14 (137pp) ISBN 978-0-06-024536-8

Though its cast is new and its tone considerably more somber, this intoxicating if painful work shares with Block's ( Weetzie Bat ) earlier novels a magic-tinged Los Angeles setting; emotionally charged, hip writing; and a stylized narrative construction derived from the timeless rhythms of myth and fairy tales. Here, the novel (as well as its striking design) is structured upon the conventions of a tarot reading, adding another layer of meaning and mystery to the hypnotic prose. Sitting in a hospital waiting room, grimly anticipating news of her terminally ill father's death, Laurel meets an eerily attractive man named Jack. During the sultry summer following her father's death, Laurel encounters Jack at various underground clubs and parties. A bittersweet romance springs up, with motorcyle-riding, black-clad Jack (who may or may not be a reincarnation of aspects of Laurel's father) providing Laurel with spiritual and erotic guidance. With Jack's aid, Laurel slowly acknowledges and transcends torturous family secrets: her father's sexual abuse of her and her mother's silent complicity. Although the discussion of incest is fairly indirect, Block is otherwise candid; she describes Laurel's sexuality frankly (``The closest I have come to coming since I was fourteen''), and drugs play a prominent part in her exotic, lushly described L.A. scene. Disturbing but ultimately exhilarating. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)