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The Meat and Spirit Plan Paperback – September 1, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
This dark first-person tale of youthful initiation by Mississippi-born Saterstrom (The Pink Institution) follows a feisty narrator from public housing in a backward Southern town to the sodden grit of university life in Glasgow. The young, unnamed narrator of these detached vignettes falls into bad company as her drug-addict mother largely disappears and her older sister introduces her to sex and booze. The narrator loses her virginity early on during a drunken bout with a football player and subsequently hangs out with half-Vietnamese friend Heather and her doped-up loser pals. It's not clear how, but after being sent to reform school, the narrator distinguishes herself in English, which opens the door to college in Big City, and later, to Scottish University, where she studies religion, delves into postmodern studies and hooks up with former heroin freak Ian. Her mother's death brings her home just in time for gallstones to send her to the hospital for a long stay. Through banter with night nurse Charlie (who calls her Ginger Rogers), she establishes a connection in the face of rupture and loss. Saterstrom's coming-of-age narrative is tough and unblinking, and the moments of clarity provide immense satisfaction. (Sept.)
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Top customer reviews
The section titles say something in themselves: "Headbanger's Ball" juxtaposed with "Religious Studies," then "The Slaughterhouses of Glasgow," "Magic Tricks for a Hospital Setting," and "The Life of Ginger Rogers, by Ginger Rogers." Why the heavy-metal chapter titles? Maybe something about the rawness of the narrator's early life experience. And the violence. Clashing against everything, and needing to scream, but being unable to, so doing it vicariously through music. Catharsis. The titles correspond with her action, "I incised some narrow lines into my palms and between my fingers" (43).
The separate passages--the fragmented nature of the form this text is presented to us in--this represents memory. It resembles recollections told to a therapist over a period of time--or a journal written after the fact, maybe.
The "Religious Studies" section illustrates an attempt at college life. She is in a period of seeking, and immersed in an institution. The highly-structured environment may not work for her in a long-term way, but it has opened her into a new awareness, perhaps, at least in some small way.
"The Slaughterhouses of Glasgow" shows her expanding out into a multi-cultural world. A certain violence still pervades this section, but it is not only matter-of-fact, like earlier in the book, but maybe even wry, humorous, or even slightly celebratory of the disparity she again finds herself immersed in. Instead of music, she finds expression in art, and sits in front of it, rather than talk or write her thesis: "Then I sit in front of it when I'm supposed to be at University library writing my research thesis" (143-144). A slaughtered ox that represents so much for her--this metaphor is so colourful.
"Magic Tricks for a Hospital Setting" transitions the narrator into a space of healing. She must look at her problems of metabolising/digesting her past.
"The Life of Ginger Rogers, by Ginger Rogers" projects her experience into a setting of film. She becomes the film star--her only name in the book--and a surreal art film with a multi-cultural cast brings together her experience thus far. This film incorporates everything, such a variety and scope, and it contains the element of acceptance, rather than a pushing away, a clinging to, or an ignoring of experience. This so-called film finds a new language that includes all languages. Ginger Rogers becomes birth, life, old age, sickness, and death. The end.
Saterstrom's work gets its power from metaphoric imagery as well as sentences whose rhythms embody, enliven, content, such as the forward-crash of the first line on page 90 which starts a new episode, as if the novel is taking a gasp of resurrecting air after the narrator's mom admits she's gone back to coke.
This novel shows its author's attention to theme-plot and place (Beau Repose, Mississippi) and models the act of writing as a kind of (ancient) way of knowing.
This work startles with its poetic clarity and intuitive strangeness of episode endings. Metaphors, especially those on pages 16, 18, and 99, enliven already powerful prose.
Moments of insight, such as on page 130 that, for the narrator, "[faith] could be impure...", and other sections that are stream-of-consciousness-like, such as the thought spiral on page 24, are very enjoyable.
Portentous imagery also appears, fueling theme-plot and diversions through imagery. The Geronimo section on 80 and Aztec song on 87 are nice. It made me wonder, though, where the character Jude had gone. I wished he would make a haunting reappearance.
Overall, a very excellent work by a very capable writer. Highly recommended.
Fiction Editor, Our Stories