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Generation Loss Paperback – April 14, 2008

4.1 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Praise for Elizabeth Hand's previous novels:

"Inhabits a world between reason and insanity-it's a delightful waking dream."--People

"One of the most sheerly impressive, not to mention overwhelmingly beautiful books I have read in a long time."--Peter Straub

Cass Neary made her name in the 1970s as a photographer embedded in the burgeoning punk movement in New York City. Her pictures of the musicians and hangers on, the infamous, the damned, and the dead, got her into art galleries and a book deal. But 30 years later she is adrift, on her way down, and almost out. Then an old acquaintance sends her on a mercy gig to interview a famously reclusive photographer who lives on an island in Maine. When she arrives Downeast, Cass stumbles across a decades-old mystery that is still claiming victims, and into one final shot at redemption.

Questions for Elizabeth Hand

Jeff VanderMeer for Amazon.com: Your novel Generation Loss introduces readers to a very eccentric and sometimes selfish photographer named Cass. Are all artists inherently selfish?

Hand: Yes. You can't be an artist without being inherently self-involved, without believing that the world owes you a living, and that everything you do--anything, matter how sick or twisted or feeble or pathetic--is worthy of attention. This is the secret behind the success of stuff like American Idol and YouTube. This is the world Andy Warhol bequeathed to us.

Amazon.com: Isn't it partially that selfishness that results in great fiction? Isn't the antagonist of your novel in a way driven by selfishness?

Hand: I don't think I'd call it selfishness, to be truthful. I think creating any real art depends on an intense amount of focus¬--of filtering out the rest of the world as much as you can, to sustain and then impart your own vision or secondary world--what John Gardner called "the vivid and continuous dream." I think the antagonist of Generation Loss sees himself as being impelled by love--romantic love, carnal love, the pure love of artistic creation--not selfishness. Whereas Cass's motivation is something far darker and more sinister than love. She's seen the abyss; she lives there.

Amazon.com: Is Cass Neary a prototypical "bad girl"?

Hand: Well, she's your prototypical amoral speedfreak crankhead kleptomaniac murderous rage-filled alcoholic bisexual heavily-tattooed American female photographer. So, yeah.

Amazon.com: So this is definitely not what you'd call "chick lit"?

Hand: Umm, probably not. If it were a movie, it would have a NC-17 rating. Or maybe NR. Is Lolita considered chick lit? That book had a huge influence on me, especially with this novel. I always wanted to create a narrator like Humbert Humbert, someone utterly reprehensible and unsympathetic who still manages to command a reader's attention and even an uneasy sympathy. I loved the idea of making a reader complicit with the crimes committed by a protagonist. The simple act of continuing to turn the pages makes you guilty by association.

Amazon.com: Did you have a particular artist in mind as the inspiration for the foul-smelling but visionary paintings in the novel?

Hand: No. That part I made up.

Amazon.com: C'mon. You're not allowed to just make things up. Spill the beans.

Hand: No, I really didn't have anyone in mind. There are elements of the work of photographers I admire--Robert Mapplethorpe, Cindy Sherman, Sally Man, Joel-Peter Witkin--and of outsider artists like Henry Darger or Richard Dadd or Roky Erickson. But the whole concept of an artist creating his own emulsion paper--I thought of that, then researched it and learned that, indeed, some photographers work that way. I also consulted a photographic conservator who's an acquaintance and asked him, Is this possible? He said yes, and I took it from there.

Amazon.com: Are people in Maine as mean toward tourists as you describe?

Hand: No. Just me. Though folks who work at the general store three doors down from me really do sometimes wear a T-shirt that reads THEY CALL IT TOURIST SEASON, WHY CAN'T WE SHOOT THEM? So, okay, me and them.

Amazon.com: Have you ever driven a tourist off your property with a shovel?

Hand: Not yet. But I would. A few years ago friend said he pictured me up on the Laurentian shield, threatening outsiders with a pitchfork. That's pretty accurate.

Amazon.com: Weren't you once a tourist?

Hand: Never. I lived in DC for 13 years, and worked for a long time at the Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum--Tourist Central. That effectively killed any sympathy I might ever have had towards them.

Amazon.com: What's coming up for you?

Hand: Well, I'll be doing some touring and readings for this book, and I hope to record the entire novel as a podcast/audio book--I'm very excited to be performing again. I'm presently at work on a YA novel about Arthur Rimbaud called Wonderwall, to be published by Viking, and am brooding on another novel that might be something along the lines of Generation Loss, or not. I get restless and like to shift gears a lot. So we'll see.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Hand (Mortal Love) explores the narrow boundary between artistic genius and madness in this gritty, profoundly unsettling literary thriller. Cass "Scary" Neary, a self-destructive photographer, enjoyed her 15 minutes of fame snapping shots of the punk scene's most squalid moments. Now forgotten and aging gracelessly, Cass gets a shot at rehabilitation when a friend assigns her to interview Aphrodite Kamestos, a photographer from the fringe of the '60s counterculture, whose morbid vision influenced Cass herself. On remote Paswegas Island off the coast of Maine, Cass finds a dissipated and surly Aphrodite who sees in Cass the darkest aspects of herself. Worse, Cass discovers that a remnant of a commune Aphrodite helped found has taken her bleak aesthetic to the next level in an effort to penetrate mysteries of life and death. Cass is a complex and thoroughly believable character who behaves selfishly—sometimes despicably—yet still compels reader sympathy. The novel's final chapters, in which Cass confronts a horrifying embodiment of the extremes to which her own artistic inclinations could lead, are a terror tour-de-force that testify to the power of great fiction to disturb and provoke. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 300 pages
  • Publisher: Harvest Books; 1 edition (April 14, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156031345
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156031349
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #345,305 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've been a fan of Elizabeth Hand since Waking the Moon. WtM remains my favorite of her books, followed by her short story collections Last Summer at Mars Hill and Cleopatra Brimstone, and her novel Black Light. I had a difficult time with 2004's Mortal Love, as I felt there was a rather tortured effort to make it more "literary" than its predecessors and the result was a beautifully written fever dream of a book that was just too hard to follow. So, I was curious to see what Generation Loss would be like, and in some ways, it seems to be something of a departure. I liked it, mind you, but there were some elements missing that usually surface in her books (the rich and evocative use of language, the supernatural element), and I could not quite figure out what kind of book this was meant to be. Horror story? Mystery? Fantasy? About halfway through, I had to stop and do an Internet search to see what I could find about the book, and was lucky enough to come across an interview wherein Ms Hand states that in GL, she attempts to cut down on the use of what she terms "purple" prose, and that she decided to dispense with the supernatural. Once I had this sorted out, I was able to sit back and just take the story on face value without waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak. Especially as the story winds its way to the end, due to the hints dropped here and there and because of the extremely spooky, Halloween-like atmosphere, I kept expecting (hoping for, actually!) some disaffected old god to step out from one of the bare and chilly trees, but you can relax: it's not going to happen, at least not in this book, although the sinister possibility does seem to be just a breath away.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
No one writes like Elizabeth Hand. Joyce Carol Oates has her "Handian" moments, but then she turns around and takes off in equally wonderful, but very different directions. No, Hand is unique. Silken prose; deft characterizations; environmental descriptions which accelerate the real into the hyper- and surreal. Plots thick as the Maine fogs and storms, and dark, dark mindtwists that fascinate, enchant, as they startle and disgust. This book, like her entire oeuvre, is compelling reading and not to be missed for fans. To those new to the work of Elizabeth Hand, this would serve as a powerful introduction, capturing and captivating from the first page. Those who love JCO or just adore great prose styling like that of Guy Gavriel Kay or Isabel Allende or Donna Tartt or Poppy Z. Brite or the master himself, Marcel Proust will find so much to love and enjoy here.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I first encountered Elizabeth Hand via her debut novel, Winterlong. I thought it was great, if a bit opaque, and I liked her subsequent books, Aestival Tide and Icarus Descending, almost as much. Slightly earlier, I had also discovered similar writer Richard Grant, and was surprised to find they were a couple. I liked them both, but in my mind, both went wrong when they started writing less SFF and more contemporary, real world fantasy. In Hand's case, with Glimmering.

In Generation Loss, Cass Neary, a small-town girl turned big-city punk photographer has spent twenty years doing drugs, having sex, and having once been slightly famous. She heads to Maine to interview a more famous has-been photographer, and things go bad.

Cass is an amoral, unlikeable character. That can work fine, especially in third person. Hand, though, uses a first person perspective, and she doesn't pull it off. Cass goes around doing amoral things, but there's never any reflection or introspection that explains why. She clearly recognizes that, for example, stealing and hiding someone's car keys is not a good thing to do, but she does it anyway. Aside from plot convenience, we never learn why she does it or how she feels about it. It's just one of those things - she's outwardly a bad person.
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Format: Hardcover
...and by that I mean the main character's journey. Wow.

Hand does a terrific job of inserting subtle taps in between brick-in-the face punches, both on the mirco-level of almost passing remarks in the middle of a scene and on the macro-level of Cass Neary's progress through the story. The result is an amazingly cross-complementary cooperation between the main character's redemption and the narrative structure and language of the book itself.

What the heck does that mean? Well, without giving away any spoilers (I hope), it means that the evolution out of a private hell and into reenfranchisement with the rest of humanity comes through in both character actions and the broader subject matter and narrative focus of the entire book -- and one half of that feeds the other half so delicately that I didn't pick up on it until days later. Yes, this is a book that stays with you. (Anything more I might say would both sound unforgivably academic and could taint the experience for someone who hasn't read it yet.)

I think all of this is even more impressive when considering that Hand *hated* writing this book. Fortunately for the rest of us, she pressed on. Read it.
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