Catherynne M. Valente, . . Prime, $29.95 (184pp) ISBN 978-1-894815-65-9
In Valente's surreal, image-driven first novel, centered on the Greek myth of the Minotaur, a female Theseus details the bizarre landscape of the Minotaur's maze and its unique flora and fauna. These include a wisdom-dispensing monkey guide, a mystery-solving "Meaningful Lobster" straight out of Lewis Carroll and numerous other creatures who evoke works of classic fantasy and mythology. The pursuing entities in the claustrophobic maze-world are not the bull-headed monsters of legend but doorways to other dimensions, which the characters spend much of their time avoiding. Most of the action is internal, as characters swap life stories, exchange experiences and try to solve their way out of puzzles philosophically. The author's poetic prose simmers with paraphrases from Blake, Milton, Shakespeare and other literary heavyweights, and this often gives her descriptions stimulating depth and richness. Sometimes, though, her sentences groan under the weight of images awkwardly layered and fused to express the unique chaos of this private universe. Readers who luxuriate in the telling of a tale and savor phrases where every word has significance will enjoy the challenge of this fantasy. Others may find its maze of language an impenetrable mystery.
Reviewed on: 07/19/2004