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Generation Loss Paperback – April 14, 2008
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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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With this in mind, one line from the book struck me: "How many of us can say we've made a new world out of the things that terrify and move us?" Well,Elizabeth Hand can, anyway. There's not a lazy sentence in this entire book, which is one of the few out there that any writer can read and learn from, and any reader will find a powerful and moving experience. I can't recommend this one too highly.
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. Again, that might work, except that we're seeing the action from her point of view, and she appears to have no opinion about it.
Hand seems to go out of her way to concoct a stereotype - gritty, dark, and pretentious all at once. Must the music be Patti Smith and John Coltrane? Despite her limited life of drugs and sex, Cass seems to have managed to learn a lot about not only photography, but furniture and wine. She walks into one room in a decrepit house on a Maine island, and we learn that it's full of "Twentieth Century Danish Modern furniture. Arne Jacobsen chairs, a cane and bamboo Jacobsen Slug chair, a beautifully spare Klint dining table." To be honest, I don't know or care what any of this is. But I find it hard to accept that a ne'er do well who's spent her life in crappy apartments can pick all this out at a glance. Hand seems to feel the need to drop names - especially in photography. This is more excusable, since the protagonist is a photographer. But in the space of four paragraphs, she mentions: Warhol, Schnabel, Koons, Curtins; Chris Mars, Joe Coleman; Lori Field, Nick Blinko; Fred Ressler, Mapplethorpe, Patti Smith, Lee Friedlander, Brian Belott, Branka Jukic. I don't know who most of these people are. I'm sure it's fun for photography and modern art aficionados, but to an average reader, it's overkill. I got the point way back - Cass knows photography.
Despite all this, and a plot that seems to cry out "Make me into a horror film, please!", there's no denying Hand's stylistic skill. Sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, Generation Loss is well written. It was more than enough to get me to finish the book with some enjoyment. It's not enough to get me interested in the sequel, out next year. In fact, much as I admire her writing, and much as I approve of doing new things, I'm not sure I'm in Hand's audience any more.
In brief - if you're looking for a return to Hand's early work, look elsewhere. If you want gritty, dark, well written horror, this is the book for you, especially if you're excited about photography
Fully realized characters, no-frills through-the-camera-lens descriptions so real that they put you inside the scenes, an organic plot and a setting that reflects the inner bleakness of protagonist Cass Neary--all these elements come together to make even the most jaded reader's heart race with excitement at discovering that a book can still be such an entertaining and rewarding experience.
GENERATION LOSS played a movie in my head. I saw the whole thing--which has to be by design because it is so in keeping with the Eye See You undercurrent theme of the story. Absolutely brilliant.
I am in awe. Thank you, Liz Hand.
(No major spoilers below, but a few comments that may bum you out if you haven't read it yet, so be warned....)
....but she comes through for someone who needs her at the end. She doesn't seem to treat almost anyone around her with much respect and she pretty much always thinks of herself first, other people be damned. Now, to be clear, that doesn't mean I didn't like the book. A flawed heroine adds some interesting elements to the story and she definitely has an intriguing history. Incidentally, I did enjoy the references to the old punk scene and some musical history. So, there were things I liked about the book and things I didn't like so much (a few plot holes). To sum up, I know that this is the first in a series and I haven't rushed to get book two....but I may eventually.