by Kelly Everding
With only a few points of plot to go by, seven authors piece together a story that races through the minds of its various narrators--people who know and/or love S., a.k.a. Sue, Susie, Suze, Suzanne, Suzy, and Susan. S. is as elusive as her name; she drives men wild with desire yet expertly shakes loose any ties, be they marriage or murder, and drops away only to reappear in another life, another country. As introduced in the first chapter, "Hocus Pocus," S. is a Lolita-like nymphet, stringing along a sub-par magician and expert pickpocket. Throughout the course of the novel, S. falls into the roles of an adolescent accomplice to murder, a smuggler, the muse of a revolutionary poet, a religious fanatic, and finally a recluse from her own identity. Absorbing the desires and fears of each person she meets, S. becomes a projection of the mind, an object of seduction as fate buffets her from one man to the next. In the most stirring chapter, "A Flash, Then Night," a certain defrocked priest inveigles her with pages of poetry cut from books in order to hide contraband cigars:
I evolved the desperate plan to dominate her through books. I chose the works that I would read to her with the maniacal care of a magician preparing a potion, adding in and mixing the desired effects of fear, desire, suspense, happiness, surprise, and lascivious or terrible imaginings, following the progress I could discern in her soul, taking into account as well the times of day when she would call me to her side.
In "Anthropoetics," a literary professor captivated by her silvery brunette hair and blue eyes realizes, "there was so little I knew about her that after all my gnawing meditation I still wasn't sure where Suzanne ended and my fantasies took up." However manipulative she is, however amoral or aimless, S. intelligently applies her mercurial gifts to each situation, driving the narrative forward through hilarity and the unexpected.
The mix of American and French writers collaborating on S. concoct a humorous and beautiful exquisite corpse, or rather exquisite S., who embraces absurdity, black humor, and beauty--the perfect surrealist woman who fears neither sex nor the bohemian lifestyle and whose identity is not mired in her ego but rather in fate, coincidence, and love. Excepting the legendary Harry Mathews, whose "Quevedo Cipher" stays faithful to his Oulipoetic principles while concluding the desperate search for S. in a playful way, this book serves as a wonderful introduction to unfamiliar writers, as well as a delightful romp all its own.
Rain Taxi Print Edition, Vol. 2 No. 3, Fall (#7) | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 1997