Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Radiant Days by Elizabeth Hand

Elizabeth Hand's Radiant Days is a luminous time slip novel that connects Merle Tappit, a lesbian first-year art college student in 1970s Washington DC, with the bisexual poet Arthur Rimbaud in 1870s France. Both Merle and Arthur are rebellious teen iconoclasts. Merle prefers graffiti tagging over attending classes. Arthur's classes are cancelled because of the Franco-Prussian war. He keeps running away from his home in Charleville, determined to live as a writer in Paris, on his own terms. He says, "People want poetry to be a nursemaid. I want it to be a murderer and a thief."*

A mysterious fisherman/musician brings the two young people briefly together. Hand also uses him to add the myth of Orpheus to the philosophical mix in her textured novel.

Rimbaud is considered the patron saint of young writers because he wrote most of his work when he was 15 and 16 years old. Excerpts (in Hand's own translations) are included throughout. "Arriving forever, setting out for everywhere" is an example, one that captures the feeling of being poised on the brink of possibility. It is used as an epigraph for the final section, in which we glimpse the trajectory that Merle's and Rimbaud's adult lives have taken.

I liked this book a lot better than Hand's earlier novel, Illyria. Endings are really important to me and I loved the full-circle feeling of Hand's final chapter in Radiant Days.

*Quote is from the back cover. Inside the book (on page 136), the text is one word different: "People want poetry to be a nursemaid. I want to be a murderer and a thief." Is the missing 'it' a typographical error?

No comments: