American literature is littered with writers aping Hemingway, but instead of creating a purposeful and precise piece, they compile a redundant series of descriptions and lifeless imagery that hardly achieve anything. Marianne Micros’ prose is not following in that tradition but despite the wealth of ideas, in its simplicity, it lacks personality or a distinct voice.
In “Similes”, a character thinks of her short story and how it will be poorly received by her Creative Writing professor because her prose is not flowery. She prefers short, understated, bare prose with simple words and everyday vocabulary. Of course, the economy of deliberate use of words can provide an intensity of focus that a more florid style cannot. It is easy to muddle up a piece with endless dull descriptions of scenery, people’s clothing, facial features, background history, in long, drawn-out passages but the reverse is not easy either. Precision and elegance is often hard to accomplish with simple and straightforward prose. There is always a risk of writing in an insipid characterless voice that bores the reader as much as an unnecessarily decorated one.
In this small collection of tales, reminiscent of Ovid, the epic metamorphosis of gods and heroes is replaced with that of every day mortals, set against the mundane background of suburbia, academia or metropolitan cities. With her doppelgängers, selkies, hobgoblins, and ghosts, Micros engages in that old game of defamiliarization and she succeeds in creating isolated, forlorn characters whose strange epiphanies and encounters with the supernatural soften the boundaries between life, art, and death.
Statue, like Metamorphoses, is driven mainly by man’s chase for his own reflection—a pursuit that for Ovid’s characters ends in destruction but for Micros’ often leads to a kind of salvation. Like any other collection certain stories stand out; the titular tale of a newly engaged woman finding a photograph of herself (or a doppelgänger), naked and statuesque in a foreign land, is an interesting rendition of Pygmalion’s tale. Pygmalion falls in love with his own creation, an imitation of the beloved in Roman elegy made of snow-white ivory who is not responsive to the lover’s ardent love. Likewise, the pure whiteness of Katie’s strange likeness in the photograph awakens a similar desire to catch her reflection. The woman in the photograph is an unheimlich picture of Katie—an image so far from “home” and her reflection in the mirror, polished yet quite unrecognizable, that she has to leave her life in its pursuit. Micros tries to hint that this is an act of independence, but the remote, stagnant, artificial nature of the photograph still reminds one of the futility of the elegiac lover’s obsession with his own reflection incarnated in flesh.
In “Broken”, Micros takes the imagery a step further by creating a dialogue between two “artists” of sorts; choosing sculpting, that most craft-like and artisan form, as Louise’s medium of exploring “love”. Here, once again, Jamie’s confrontation with his own clayed figure and that of his beloved and rival is a nod to elegiac poetry. By destroying his rival’s statue, he participates in the craft, becoming an “artist” in his own right. The whole wasteful endeavour, the unrequited love of Louise for a younger student and a developmentally challenged man’s for a beautiful woman, is also reminiscent of Yasunari Kawabata’s tales of wasted beauty and loneliness—Wabi-Sabi, the imperfection and impermanence of things trimmed to the essential.
Although united in their Ovidian resonances, the stories also vary in theme and structure. “Bertha”, a quiet desperate tale of desire, is radically different from the playful “Cleaner” with its incorporation of the hobgoblin or “Ghost Fly”, an ironic tale of evil, guilt, and loss. The tone and the voice of the author, however, is more or less the same throughout the collection, creating a rough surface like a primary sketch of some very good ideas which leave the reader wanting more.
Acta Victoriana would like to extend thanks to the publisher, Guernica Editions, for the review copy.