Friday, April 23, 2010

Matt Bell's Wolf Parts

Yesterday, Matt Bell’s Wolf Parts arrived in my mailbox, and I immediately tucked into it. At fifty pages, it’s a short, but intense read that almost demands multiple readings because it is filled with vivid imagery and uncommon approaches to language and conventional symbolism.

Here are 47 tiny but masterful approaches to a well-worn tale, many of them just a paragraph long, yet pregnant with meaning. (Pardon the pun….after all, Granny and Red do spend some time inside the wolf’s belly, but happily, never making it to his lower intestinal tract).

Having had a night’s sleep to allow the stories to percolate, I think of them this morning as a series of porcelain miniatures: Bell paints Red’s alternate histories with precise brushstrokes that map viscera and chart the rocky (and sometimes paradoxically abstract) landscape of a victim’s psychology. The aptly named Red (sure, it’s the traditional moniker, but it also makes me think of Rosa Luxemburg, nicknamed ‘Red Rosa’ and killed by the similarly predatory German Freikorps in 1919. And maybe the red hood is actually the new Blue Stocking?) is alternately innocent girlish victim, initially unaware of but forced to acknowledge her sexuality, and then heroine, who prepares reprisals following the unwanted lessons that have sharpened her edges to points as fine as the knife concealed in her goodie basket. Other times, as in the opening story, she attempts to empower herself by stopping the destructive cycle she is trapped in. She uses the knife her mother gives her to free everything amazing inside her comparatively lowly human form.

The stories themselves are both intimate and elliptical, giving just enough information for readers to vicariously experience and also extrapolate beyond the boundaries of what’s told. And I wonder, too, if Bell was a fan of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-Narratives. (Remember those? Turn to page 63 if you think Jack should run through the glowing tunnel, or turn to page 362 if you think he should head back to his space ship.) While there is no overt direction given to reader, allowing them the illusion of control over the course of the narrative, the book's stories are not always linear, suggesting the possibility of as many alternate endings as there are stories themselves.

But really, it’s lines like these that just…well, really, there’s no better way to say it…kick ass with their imagery and metaphors:

“The Wolf and Red had always shared the twin paths through the forest, but it wasn’t until the girl started to bleed—not a wound her mother said, but a secret blood nonetheless—that he began to follow her, began to sniff at the hem of her skirts and cape" (p. 12).

How like the route of every boy and girl into a hormone-determined and hormone-driven adulthood. Matt Bell’s book gets to the heart of it all. Here are survivors and victims populating tiny fables as flawless as they are evocative.

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