cover image The Book of Joan

The Book of Joan

Lidia Yuknavitch. Harper, $26.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-06-238327-3

The future of life on a barren, ravaged Earth is in the hands of a new Joan of Arc in Yuknavitch’s (The Small Backs of Children) muddled novel. After the Wars that battered Earth, the wealthy have withdrawn to CIEL, a floating space platform that’s “far enough from the sun to exist,” but constantly in danger of incineration. Short of resources, CIEL is far from heavenly: its citizens no longer have the ability to procreate, all mention of sex and sexuality is criminal, and nobody is allowed to live past 50. The main art form on CIEL is grafting: burning or otherwise altering the skin. Nearing her final, 50th birthday, the master graft artist Christine begins to burn the outlawed story of Joan on her body. Joan was a child warrior whose great power came from her connection to the natural world. After setting off all Earth’s volcanoes, Joan was publicly executed by Jean de Men—who becomes the despotic ruler of CIEL—but rumors of her death may have been exaggerated. And as Christine and her lifelong friend Trinculo begin to plot a revolt against de Men, an opposition also begins to gather strength on the surface. Intent on finding a language for the body, Yuknavitch attempts to draw on nature writing, gender studies, and the theater, but these strains are poorly synthesized and result in a sloppy and confusing text; readers may struggle to figure out just what Joan’s powers are and how she came by them, for instance. The novel is most memorable from a thematic standpoint, particularly its insistence that “the body is a real place. A territory as vast as Earth.” [em](Apr.) [/em]