Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand

I’m beginning to wonder if Maine is the new wonderland for horror novelists. Of course, Stephen King turned it into his own Yoknapatawpha County with all of his horror stories, but now a new generation of horror writers have set up shop there or place their stories there. Elizabeth Hand both lives in Maine and has made it the eerie setting of her novel Generation Loss.

The main character of Generation Loss is Cassandra Neary, a photographer with a darker-than-death vision who struck it big during New York’s punk scene, and then … nothing happened. Cass has muddled through some thirty years in an alcohol- and other substance-fueled fugue, whiling away her life as a stock clerk at the Strand bookstore.

Through sketchy circumstances, Cass gets a shot at redemption. She is given the chance to go interview one of the photographers who inspired her as a youth: Aphrodite Kamestos. Aphrodite lives as a recluse in a remote area of Maine, but according to Cass’s source, Aphrodite specifically requested Cassandra as her interviewer of choice. With speed in her bloodstream and a few paltry possessions packed up, Cassandra hits the road.

Generation Loss shines with its cast of female characters, who span generations and are all artists. There’s Cass with blocked vision in the middle of the spectrum, past middle age and unlovely as well as unlovable, but she seems to revel in this. At the older end is Aphrodite who has kept her elfin looks through a diet of booze, but has not produced anything of note since the groundbreaking books that endeared her to Cass. And then there’s Mackenzie, a Goth teen stuck in Maine with nothing to do, but who is teeming with ideas and wants to get out to make her mark on the world.

Cass is flawed and an unlikable protagonist, which I thoroughly enjoyed. For most of the story, Cass is the one who is singled out as the monster lurking in this insular Maine community, and it’s not hard to believe with her sneaking around and spying and thieving. In the harsh wintry setting, she rediscovers her art, and everything else can be sacrificed or disregarded as she goes for her shot. Her character reminds me very much of Strickland from W. Somerset Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence, one of my favorite books.

I like it that in Hand’s novel, women are able to lay claim to this territory, artist as megalomaniac, and be as unlovely as they want to be.

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