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PALIMPSEST by Catherynne M. Valente


by Catherynne M. Valente

Pub Date: March 3rd, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-553-38576-2
Publisher: Spectra/Bantam

From Valente, another intricate fantasy (In the Cities of Coin and Spice, 2007, etc.), an expansion of a 2007 short story.

You need a passport to enter the improbable city Palimpsest and its magical mindscapes: a map of the city tattooed in black ink somewhere on your body. But to receive the mark, first you must have sex with someone who already bears one. The current candidates: New York locksmith Oleg, haunted by his drowned sister; November, a lesbian beekeeper from San Francisco; Roman bookbinder Ludovico, abandoned by his wife; and young blue-haired, train-obsessed Japanese drifter Sei. After their initial passage, any of the four can find their way back to Palimpsest—for a single night—by having sex with strangers who bear the tattoo. Via relentlessly shifting, sometimes demented scenes that alternately dazzle and bewilder, Oleg in Palimpsest finds a construct who closely resembles his sister, while back in New York he begins to pine away. November hooks up with Casimira, Palimpsest's serially reincarnated, benevolent ruler. Casimira manufactures mechanical bees, and November becomes a queen bee in exchange for two severed fingers. Sei loves Palimpsest because of its vast railway network, inside which she can both lose and find herself. Ludovico's wife, who also crossed into Palimpsest, doesn't want him, but from another lover he learns how the four can make the transition permanent.

Too obsessive and self-involved to hold universal appeal, with characters resembling visitors from somebody else's recurring dreamscape.