A literary novel about one woman’s strange journey through Northern California.
Mason (Sebastopol, 2009) presents Elizabeth Cromwell, a professional dominatrix in San Francisco. Elizabeth is in attendance at a party during gay pride week hosted by the XX Lite Lash Society when she comes across a man named Geoffrey Godwin Dilworth. Geoff has a strange story to tell. It seems that he had a negative encounter with a dominant named Prescott. Prescott left Geoff tied up at a hotel called Tor’s Lake, with certain parts of his body painted in nail polish, and then proceeded to call Geoff’s wife. After Geoff begins referring to himself as Lance (and referring to Geoff as his “weak sister”), it’s clear that things are even odder than they first appear. Two weeks after Elizabeth’s encounter with Geoff, she is made aware that he is attempting to give her a comic-book collection valued at some quarter-million dollars. By this point, Geoff has disappeared, and Elizabeth isn’t quite sure she wants the collection, seeing how Geoff gave her “the creeps.” When Elizabeth attempts to speak with a lawyer named Sheila Prescott, an explosion outside of San Francisco’s Civic Center kills and wounds a number of people. Elizabeth comes away with only minor injuries and a blind man’s service dog. She decides that she will attempt to find the dog’s owner. It’s a mission that only adds to her convoluted journey through California towns like Vacaville and Petaluma. It is a journey that will come to involve ever stranger elements like a burned down comic-book store, a photograph of a mysterious railroad car, and a lengthy tangent on F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Mason’s winding, Pynchon-esque California adventure is, in the tradition of Pynchon, sometimes difficult to follow. Although conversations tend to consist of questions and answers, they often produce more of the former than the latter. When Elizabeth asks an attorney how long Geoff’s parents were separated, the response is: “Before Melissa was born. Anne was born in San Francisco.” It’s an opaque exchange even when read in the context of the scene, not to mention the fact that it entirely ignores Elizabeth’s inquiry. Although recaps of events do occur (e.g. Elizabeth’s attempts to find the owner of the service dog are explained), the reader can expect little in the way of hand-holding. This isn’t to say the text is inscrutable, only that close reading is necessary. The payoff comes in poetic descriptions such as an “underground campground of the mad” and a visitor’s lounge with “a dozen old people with nothing to move for.” All told the story feels much longer than its nearly 400 pages, though the reader can expect the adventure of a sleuthing sadomasochist professional to prove to be every bit as odd as it sounds.
A dense, inventive, challenging account of one woman’s bizarre West Coast entanglement.