Where is Nalo Hopkinson in my reader-satisfaction world? I felt as good after finishing Brown Girl in the Ring and The New Moon’s Arms as I did after finishing Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks and after finishing all three of the Julie Czerneda’s Species Imperative series in rapid succession.
It has been a *long time* since I’ve actually been satisfied by a read. This was delicious and perfect and exactly enough. I didn’t need any more or less, and I am closing the book happy. Nalo Hopkinson is the storyteller I’ve been longing for. It was the weirdest reading experience I’ve ever had, and true for both books. I finish, and then I don’t really feel the need to read anything else for a while. WEIRD, huh?
Odd reading behavior for me, but I started The New Moon’s Arms at midnight and finished it at 4:45 am. I usually sip lightly at my books, but this one I consumed whole hog.
There were some attributes to Hopkinson’s writing style true to both books that I really enjoyed.
The first is dialect. I love that Hopkinson includes dialect and doesn’t try to dumb down or explain the lingo as we go along in the story. It’s rather a sink-or-swim, and it’s delicious. We’re creatures of language, and it doesn’t take long before I’m thinking in these new grammatical ways, just from reading,
“It looks like she tear ducts get leave behind when she jook out she eyes, Ti-Jean thought.”
“Eshu, is we here tonight: me, Gros-Jeanne, and me grand-daughter Ti-Jeane, and her Baby-father, Tony.”
But the dialect is not here just for flavouring or authenticity. The patois changes according to whom the character is addressing, who is taking part in the conversation, and what the conversation is about. While Gros-Jeanne, the grandmother who is pretty much stuck in her flavor of English, Tony can formal-up and relax his English to suit his surroundings.
The other writing attribute that did me in for Hopkinson is her characterization. Her people are neither good nor bad, but just folks doing their just folks thing, likeable people who sometimes do unlikeable things, or make dumb mistakes, or bust out with a stupid thing she shouldn’t have said, or are pig-headed on an issue. Just…like…me. (*koff*) But the thing with Hopkinson, is that she lets us know *why* this character made this dumb mistake, or is stubborn on this one issue but otherwise level-headed and progressive. There’s a reason behind everything here, and every character in the story has a part to play in the plot.
Hopkinson had me doing the involuntary Cheese Chip Deadlift. I realized I had eaten half a bag of the stupid things without realizing what I was doing while reading Brown Girl. Now that’s good writing, hey?
Now, for a brief description of these two books that I’ve read and enjoyed.
Brown Girl in the Ring is a post-apocalyptic style tale, about a gal stuck in inner Toronto after the economy has collapsed and most people have left. It’s difficult to get out of the city, cars are rare, etc, and someone is preying on people for their organs. Ti-Jeanne is young, a new mom, trying to dump her boyfriend and her feelings for him, and living with her grandmother who is the local healer and a Voudoun priestess. Ti-Jeanne has inherited some of these powers, too, it seems, and she doesn’t quite know what to do about them.
The New Moon’s Arms starts with a funeral. One of the attendees loses her undies mid-mourn, and it just kind of goes from there. Calamity is 50-something, and if I’m not at least a little like her when I’m that age, please just push me off the roof. She has an ability to find lost things, or things just sort of manifest to her…including a washed up sea-people child and an entire cashew orchard. Calamity just rolls with the bizarre, though, and keeps on with her life: falling in love, pissing people off, and trying to figure out what’s up with this kid suddenly in her life. There’s a lot of family history, of course, including a seal skin that she and her daughter find on a dare when exploring the mysteriously-manifested cashew orchard. New Word: freezerversity.
I dunno if you’ll like Nalo Hopkinson. But if you like non-stop story, rich and full characters with punkitude and not-always-benificent-magic set in a world likely different than anything you’ve read or visited, you might fall in love with Hopkinson like I did. I plan to read everything she has written and then on to everything she recommends.
Her next book coming out (mid-March) is Sister Mine, and it’s already on pre-order for me with The Book Loft. No, you can’t borrow it. Is MINE! Get your own, punk.
P.s. When you get to reading Hopkinson, be advised that however the e-editions came about, they did a real scan and chop job. They are mostly OK, but some instances of the text being out of order. Advise finding paper copies.
P.P.S. WHAT HAPPENED TO THE SEAL SKIN, NALO?