Ken Gunther’s Lilith: Testament of a Life is a réaliste novel. “A tale of abuse and terror. A Green manifesto and a male’s feminist tract.” The storyline follows the government persecution of two “enviros”. (As the heroine puts it: “So who are we supposed to call for help when the killers have badges?”) While it is the story of a timeless love, to be sure, it is also a most unusual indictment of what the book’s narrator calls “that cultural schism which civilizes us”.
Lilith: Testament of a Life is unique in structure. That is, the storyline gets amplified in the book’s margins—via side panels, offsets and illustrations—which illuminate the heroine’s reflections as different from her day-to-day activities. As the narrator puts it, “This gives today’s reader (action over reflection) the choice to go deeper or just skip it.” He continues: “If we civilizens [sic] can’t eat it, have sex with it, get fame or eternal life from it, then we fail to see the point.” If only for such thinking, this novel, I believe, will prove intensely polarizing.
Then there’s size. At a thousand pages Lilith weighs in as “hefty”. But the journey’s length melts away as the flow of the story carries one ever closer to wilder rapids, bigger rocks, with dramatic and beautiful scenes (illustrations) blazoning the banks along the way. Illustrations, in a novel? Gunther says, in a hyper-visual environment, “the answer to a collapsing readership is not to double-down on tired old rules like ‘novels don’t have pictures’.”
With regards to language, Lilith is written in what the narrator calls “my stealthy prisoner steno. . .my little truth-smuggling spider with ink on her feet.” The prose of Gunther’s “Lilith” books presages “that texting which is transforming cyberchat across the world as we speak.” Gunther explains: “Language obviously has been headed toward steno efficiency since E.E. [Cummings] watched the building of the Brooklyn Bridge with Hart Crane. How static and futile to keep fighting it. (‘Thru’ and ‘enuf’ need an ‘-ough’? Really?) To be alive is to inhale change like air!”
A book so deftly distilled best explains itself. Below are just a small sample of the thoughts which propel Lilith: Testament of a Life forward. And, oh, (spoiler alert) I should mention: The storyline dragging one ever closer to that gruesome snuff which catalyses the tale, is, I believe, one of a kind.
Check these out. (All [sic]’s omitted for clarity.)
“And so it was, we made a pact to stop wearing false scents, stop entertaining the high genteelese fear of getting caught smelling exactly like oneself! It was this pact which facillitated the feast of [Lilith’s] farious scents: the vanilla wafer of her cheek & neck; the sasaparilla forest of her hair; the fruity mead between her breasts; the almondine musk of her abdomen & navel; the crushed nutmeg of her oceanside thighs; the pumpkin-scented mons of her gender smelled somehow tawnycolored but was a small triangle of brun. Thus remembered, each scent recreates the old buzz of bliss in my brain, the hum of love in my head, the leap of lust in loin & limb! I am convinced, blindfolded, using only nose & tung, i could find her on a conveyorbelt of naked female bodies. Her very bileduct, i’m guessing, was scented but like the throat of a musky orchid!”
And this: “It’s not Nature’s job to please our sense of anything. Nature’s job, as far as we can know it, is to enforce the laws which run the Universe—which obviously includes encouraging diversity of life on Earth. And if, along the way, those immutable laws manage to absorb some of our prolific stupidity, we should consider ourselves fortunate.”
“. . .The societal cure we need can be effected only on the scale of civilization itself.”
“The very utterance of which raises an alarm. Why? We must ask: Why do we not wonder at our liberty to curse everything, to curse everything but civilization? What’s that about? How is it that a thing so obvious as how we look at the World is never questioned? Are we, perhaps, religiously civilized?”
Countless facts are interspersed into the story. “Green revolution? Really? If tomorrow we took Rachel Carson and John Muir. . .back to their beloved stomping grounds they would come away sick unto death to find their great works amounted to no more than a beautiful hiccup in civil humanity’s creation of the largest landfill this side of Pluto!”
“There is now more cellphone access worldwide than access to running water. That tidbit alone reeks of some global-level insanity.”
Then gems like this: “The scent, the feel, the lingering sight of [Lilith’s] shadow, breathes in me still.
Just pillow where your face was;
just nite where your hair was;
just wraiths of wind and moon
phantomiming ‘round the room
swearing hoax…where your ghost was.”
And finally: “When sitting alone, among the ruins of this insipient apacalypse we call progress, that is when civil society will, perhaps, decide: “Maybe we should have sat down ‘n’ just listened. . .just quietly listened. . . . For the last sound the last person on Earth will hear will be the voice of. . .the voice of (wait for it. Here it comes!). . .will be the voice of Nature! After all, should not “she”, who uttered the first word, also have the last?”
Stella! Hey, Stella!A Streetcar Named Desire,1951
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