So far this month a review of Dim Shores release of Luminous Body by Brooke Warra. Enjoy.
YOU ARE AN ANOMALY
Michael D. Miller
BROOKE WARRA. Luminous Body. Dim Shores, 2019. 56 pp. Advance Uncorrected Proof.
The H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, Oregon has just celebrated another year of proving that “the Weird never dies.” Amid the festival of cinematic explorations of Lovecraftian horror are also of course numerous publishers in the field from Hippocampus Press to Word Horde to a publisher that has been keeping the Weird alive as a publishing directive – Dim Shores. On hand at the festival was an advance uncorrected proof of their latest publication: Luminous Body by Pacific Northwest writer, Brooke Warra and it will no doubt be making cosmic waves throughout the universe very soon.
Luminous by definition is (according to Webster’s II) “ adj, 1. emitting light. 2. Lighted : illuminated. 3a. Well-expressed : clear. b. Inspiring.” Body by definition is “1a. The entire material structure and substance of an organism. b. The physical part of a person as opposed to the mind or spirit. c. A corpse or carcass. d. A Human : person.” Luminous Body is all that and much more. Within the first two pages Warra compresses you – the reader – into a projectile chambered in a pistol and blasts you into the narrative, colliding with horror both cosmic and visceral like meteors and asteroids on a collision course with meaning.
Invoking second-person narrative in the opening with an appeal to randomness and survival we are immediately left to question if this is “extraordinary” or “just lucky.” Often modern literary efforts at earth-centered cosmic alienation entwine anthropomorphism with internal conflicts such as depression, addiction, love, loss, and all other monsters of real life but rarely are they taken beyond that into the meaningless processes of the universe but Warra does this with great effect with a powerful prose style that does not let up for a nanosecond for 33 pages. We go at once from the cosmic scale of “You are an aberration, rising from primordial ooze of plasma, proteins, and acid” to a character revealing apartment abode with “the sandwich baggie full of my AP Science teacher’s postmortem ashes in the junk drawer.”
What Luminous Body does with its confrontation with weirdness is to examine life (pregnancy) and death (cancer) against cosmicism. For needed proof consider this description expressed from the first-person narrator Mo (Melissa) describing the diner where she works and her morning sickness that follows. “We serve coffee that resembles battery acid, runny egg sandwiches, and something called ‘burgerdogs’… The thought of food has me retching again. The last of my sugar cereal comes up, swirls in the toilet bowl like a neon-blue nebula. I place my hand over my belly and imagine the baby. The fetus. Floating around in there, in the dark, like the world’s tiniest cosmonaut.”
That is the universe of Luminous Body. Melissa struggles with correlating contents of a life coming to an end seeking to associate knowledge into meaning. Past and current relationships are measured by their meaninglessness like comets and asteroids colliding into each other in the vastness of space. This piecing together of memory is all for the purpose of giving some sense or meaning or order to Melissa’s unborn child before the cancerous tumor she also carries takes her life. (Melissa’s own mother died of cancer, her father waked out on them years before.) As if this dramatic dirge were not enough to carry a narrative, we of course must cross the threshold into the weird.
In true Lovecraftian execution the narrator and all the characters have their human qualities without restraint to set us up for the “hideous unknown.” Warra merges Mo’s cancer and pregnancy into something “where the hip meets pubic bone meets belly, the lump wriggles and sighs. It has grown teeth.” This entity grows with the narrative. Becomes her. Becomes “misshapen, angry, and always cold to the touch. There is hair, and teeth, and blue eyes like mine. She is pink like me.” We also enter a post-Lovecraftian denouement, where light replaces madness and new dark ages. Where entities leave “no more stars inside my skin… I can see them in her. I am hollowed out, empty. She is so bright.” Where metamorphosis into a new form is embraced and accepted.
Warra’s prose is etched together in bursts of short and long sentences as are the paragraph beats of the narrative. Dim Shores has also given the chapbook a comet insignia for the sporadic time transitions and accentuates the work with the surreal black and white illustrations of Zoe Leigh wrapped in an appealing color cover with a human eye against the background of starlit space. If any critique must be at hand it might ask, is the threshold of weirdness crossed at the perfect moment or flawlessly transitioned in a narrative that wanders in moments across a short lifetime? Perhaps not but that might be the point. Weirdness is what weirdness is. What more than compensates is Warra’s delivery on the rapid-fire voice of her protagonist. Can it be held for the length of the narrative where many try this vivid panache and fail? The answer is a convincing yes. The narrative retains a relentless grip on the reader throughout as Mo gives final birth, becoming a mother as she reaches unity with her own mother’s death.
Luminous Body is a memorable work, searing empathy into the reader amid an apathetic universe. Every moment is shaped as a perfect encounter forming a body of its own. No line says it better than this: “We circle each other like so many satellites, orbiting dangerously close, always just moments away from violent collision.” As Poe articulated in his theory of the single-effect in a prose tale, every sentence must serve to the effect starting with the first. The effect served is anomaly. Dim Shores has a delivered a reading experience you will not easily forget.