In which I look at Moon Snake by Kirsten Alene, and Mother Puncher by Gina Ranalli!
Title: Moon Snake
Author: Kirsten Alene
Publisher: Eraserhead Press
While reading this book, I couldn’t help but be repeatedly and strongly reminded of the fairy tales and fables of old. Not the common popular ones with mostly humans and the occasional talking animal sidekick, but the more obscure ones where everyday animals and objects are as animate and sentient as anything.
And this, in those old tales, is all seen as perfectly normal. The fantastic and the cautionary, the fanciful and the explanatory, and yet they all go together and make their own uncanny but perfect sense. That’s how the writing in Moon Snake works. That’s one of the true essences of bizarro as a genre.
I mean, here I am, someone who gnashes her teeth over bounced reality checks in speculative fiction; don’t get me started on the viability of Greg Weisman’s Gargoyles as a species, or ElfQuest’s ‘recognition’ or the socio-economic sustainabilities of Pern.
Yet, somehow, in bizarro just like in those fairy tales of old, when it’s done right and it’s done well, the results are so seamless I can just leave all that at the door. Such is the case with Moon Snake. It’s not only done right and done well, but it’s done with a kind of matter-of-fact but soft-touch subtlety.
It’s bizarre, but not crazy, not gonzo outrageous, even when the worlds presented in the two novellas that make up the book are more weirdly unreal than anything Lewis Carroll could dream up … weirdly unreal, yet also eerily coherent.
For example, in the titular work, “Moon Snake,” there are ordinary-seeming elements like hotels, newspapers and tupperware … but the main power or fuel source for everything is pear juice, though the how or why is simply left to be taken as given. A red bridge has been, for a long time, being built to some far shore. Houses are in avocado trees, and elephant milk is delivered weekly.
Meanwhile, through it all, our nameless first-person protagonist is trying to unravel mysteries of dream boats, lost/invisible arms, moths and shamans, a pear blossom shortage, and the truth of what’s on the other side of the red bridge … and finishing it was like waking from an intuitively understood dream but trying to explain it to someone else.
And then there’s the second piece, “Cathedral Bone,” which is, in its way, even weirder while at the same time more familiar. Or maybe that’s what makes it weirder. Here, there are cathedrals and universities, but there are also ladies selling alligator pies door-to-door and mastiffs who say “Jah!”
It’s kind of a love story, but also one of helplessness and loss, of things slipping away and opportunities never fully explored or realized, of unanswered and unanswerable questions, death and transformation, a sense of profound understanding hovering just beyond reach.
Or maybe that’s just me and what I came away with from this. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if every other reader came away with something altogether different. Books like these don’t so much relate a narrative as invite contemplation and introspection.
Title: Mother Puncher
Author: Gina Ranalli
Publisher: Afterbirth Books
Oh, sure, I COULD do like everybody else and go re-read The Handmaid’s Tale … or I could pick up this rather different take on the looming reproductive-rights dystopia … one in which you can go right ahead and get pregnant if you want, as many times as you want, put as much strain on the economy and society and population as you want …
… just as long as you understand, soon as that baby pops out, someone like Big Ed Means will be coming around to punch you in the face.
Ed is a Mother Puncher by trade. The hospital calls him when a woman’s about to give birth, so he can punch her in the face. The idea is to deter them from doing it again. It’s an idea that doesn’t always work; Ed has some repeats who insist on continuing to crank ’em out, despite earning their punches year after year.
Hey, it’s a living. Nothing personal. Not like Ed enjoys it. He certainly doesn’t enjoy it when his biggest fan — he’s an ex-boxer — persuades him to take a few moonlighting jobs on the side. Women who try to hide their pregnancies, or deliver at home, well, the law’s the law and they need a punch too.
Plus, there are protesters to deal with. And possible saboteurs in the hospital, and troubles at home, and a journalist in disguise. Not to mention a rivalry with one of his competitors that turns ugly.
I mean, poor Ed, he just wants to do his job, is that so much to ask? Arrive at the maternity ward, throw a punch or two, take a picture to prove it, and collect his paycheck. Instead, he’s caught in the middle of a riot.
Mother Puncher is a disturbingly hilarious read, with an uncomfortably sympathetic protagonist. You want to root for him when everything starts going wrong, but, well, it feels skeevy what with all the post-natal face-punching.
However you feel while reading this book, just don’t seek false comfort in thinking it could never happen here. After all, we used to think that about The Handmaid’s Tale …