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The Melancholy of Anatomy: Stories Paperback – April 2, 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
In her oddly infantile, solemnly scatological first collection of stories treating the body's four "humors," online fiction diva Jackson (The Patchwork Girl) sends up Robert Burton's sprawling 17th-century medical treatise, The Anatomy of Melancholy. In her take, the humors Choleric, Melancholic, Phlegmatic and Sanguine function as the intriguing divisions of this dark, slender work. Around each, she attempts to construct, if not a story, then musings on a bodily necessity, with each part further broken down into its most visceral elements: Choleric into chapters called "Egg," "Sperm," "Foetus"; Melancholic into "Cancer," "Nerve," "Dildo" and so forth. Wisely, Jackson chooses to open with the one coherently plotted story: "Egg" concerns a 36-year-old woman in San Francisco working in a grocery store and living with her ex-lover, Cass; the narrator removes an egg from her tear duct, nurtures it until it grows as big as a boulder, then allows the care of its pink insatiable perfection to lift from her the burden of desire and decision. In other stories, similarly feckless narrators focus with morbid obsession on trapping bodily fluids and herding sperm; growing cancer like a species of exotic, intractable tree; gathering nerve fibers and fashioning them into inflammable hats for ladies. Though Jackson endeavors to keep the tone high by giving her prose a sarcastic scientific veneer ("Sperm are ancient creatures, single-minded as coelacanths"), her references do not go deep enough, and her humor here is arch and superficial. Cleverly imagined but laboriously executed, these stories are squeezed too tightly through the wringer of their premise. Author appearances in New York. (Apr.)Forecast: Anointed as a Voice Writer on the Verge and heralded as a top online talent (like Eisen see below), Jackson has already made a reputation for herself. Whether she can cross over successfully remains to be seen, but the low paperback price will help.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
In these 13 well-wrought, mind-bending stories, grouped by the four medieval physiological humors, people interact with bodily parts, products, and processes, often at their peril. An egg expands from the size of a dot to enfold, then expel, the woman on whom it grew, while sperm increase to buffalo heft, serving as pets, performers, and food (with a favorite recipe included), yet with a dangerous edge to their playfulness. A fetus devoted to service becomes the town pastor, and phlegm is so highly prized in social and sexual situations that low-phlegm producers can buy the prepared kind. The city of London has menstrual cycles, during which female swabbers go deep into its blood pipes to insert a giant tampon, and sleep is a crumblike substance that falls like rain, from which each person can form one substitute to act in his or her stead. Jackson, author of the novel The Patchwork Girl (1995), probes at the relationship between the emotional and the physical in these fantastic, sometimes stomach-turning stories, for a particular audience. Michele Leber
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
The abstract style and approach to each situation Jackson takes constantly kept me attentive while at the same time utterly captivated. She personifies the beauty found within the human mind. The mind is capable of undeniably astonishing feats as well as incredible wickedness and complexity. It's an amazing thing unique to every being. People complain about the style of this author being difficult to follow, but if you are accustomed to the more creative approaches/styles of writing there should be no issue. If your new to it just keep an open mind and analyze each piece as a whole rather than parts. It's supposed to bring forth thoughts of your own, which is one of the many qualities that make this book so amazing in the first place!
(Think of Windows vs. Linux OS's here. Windows is easier to use because everything is done automatically for you while Linux is more hands on and requires some creativity on the part of the user. Windows doesn't leave much comfort room or personal levels of satisfaction, Linux possesses both but more time and effort. Personally, those having issues with this author's style simply don't take the time to really appreciate it for what it is.)
This book is arguably nothing more than an exercise in experimental fiction. It will not fly off the shelves, and it will not be a best seller. Rather, it is a gem which will be ignored by most, disliked by many, and loved by few.
Jackson, here, portrays various parts of the body in environments which they are not usually found. A large foetus arrives in a town, looming overhead in an enormous fashion. From this viewpoint, it partakes in the activities of the town, serving as a pastor and -- remarkably -- as a sort of guiding light.
"Egg" is another story which I personally enjoyed. There is bleeding symbolism, and in some respects (throughout the book), heavy handed metaphors. Despite this, though, "Egg" is, for me, the most interesting story in the book. Jackson tells of an egg from a woman's tear duct which grows larger and larger. Throughout the story, Jackson punctuates her writing with a sort of omniscient commentary - it is witty and cynical - an easter egg found in this literary scape.
Overall, this book is well worth the while of anyone who loves to read something slightly offbeat, darkly humorous, and definitely interesting. It is an enjoyable romp through the parts of the human body, a romp which is playful and disturbing all at once. Really superb.