A wonderfully strange and inventive book by a professor and poet who combines various forms into an unclassifiable whole.
Sikelianos (Creative Writing/Univ. of Denver; Body Clock, 2008, etc.) and the publisher classify this work as “an essay,” but it often reads like poetry, memoir, graphic narrative and pastiche, mixing typography (even handwriting) and visuals with various literary approaches. Its subject and focus is the author’s late grandmother Melena, who danced burlesque as the “Leopard Girl,” married five times and at least once attempted to provide instruction to her young granddaughter: “My grandmother teaching me to dance around a coffee table. You move your hips to the drums, she is telling me, your feet to the rest. She’s drunk. We’re having fun in that way you do with someone who might punch you in the teeth at any moment. Like standing at the edge of a dark cliff, below you, the nighttime waters aglow with dense possibility.” The writing pulsates with such life force, reckless and a little giddy, as the author surveys her family’s female history, the immigration of Greeks to America (and the diners they opened) and the translation of lust into money (“Who said hoochie-coochie means a drunk women’s genitals? It means a single mother’s rent.”) It’s a quest book of sorts, a pilgrimage into the desert where the author sought her grandmother more than 25 years after the latter’s death. “Thus begins the tale before human time but in human terms, and stretches far beyond us into a future we cannot imagine, except, perhaps, that it will contain us as walking libraries,” writes the author. “It matters that there are holes in a family history that can never be filled, that there are secrets and mysteries, migrations and invasions and murky bloodlines. In this way we speak of human history.”
This is writing and reading as adventure, where every page can bring a different sort of revelation.