Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Hanged Man by Francesca Lia Block


Francesca Lia Block has been my favorite author since I was twelve. Her books have helped me through family drama, break ups, graduating high school, moving to Boone… you name it, her writing has counseled me through it. Her style is unique, poetic, and decadent and chalk full of heady imagery. The content of her novels is often a bit dark but instead of flat out telling the reader ugly things, she insinuates them with beautiful language. Her books are always in the young adult fiction section, but I’ve never understood why, as her novels are laced with content inappropriate for children like AIDS scares and threesomes and child abuse. Her protagonists are usually strong but deeply flawed women in their late teens or early twenties, about where I’m at now, so despite having read most of them again and again I’ve started to revisit them.

Claudia just read my cards. “The Hanged Man,” she said. “Renunciation. Self-deprivation. Suspended in illusion. In the Egyptian deck, he is condemned to hang in hell eating his own waste. Self-poisoning. Also, resurrection.”

In The Hanged Man, Laurel is starving herself so that she can be childlike, so that she can look like she is too young to be touched, because her father that has just died did a little too much of that. She’s a Rose White to her best friend Claudia’s Rose Red, quiet and tame while Claudia is doing heroin and sleeping with too many men. Laurel’s mother keeps seeing white moths everywhere and thinks they are the spirit of her dead husband coming to visit her while she scrubs and scours her house, trying to get rid of the impurities that she thinks caused her husband's cancer. Laurel has a certain kind of mental strength that causes dishes to break when she’s upset without her touching them, glasses to shatter. She’s afraid that her pain brought her father’s cancer into being. During Laurel’s healing process, she meets Jack. We don’t know if he’s a man or a demon but he helps Laurel to reclaim her body and her voice and brings her and her friend Claudia together in new ways.

Each chapter is named after a tarot card and their meanings play into what Laurel is working through in each chapter. Claudia’s mother reads tarot cards for a living and Laurel is planning on designing her own deck. Each character takes on different properties and is ascribed a particular card that their face will go on when she paints them.

This is an intense and disturbing book about incest, family, recovering mother-daughter relationships, mythology, healing, urban violence, drugs, death, magic, and sex. It’s also a very short read with an insane amount packed into only 137 pages. I curled up with it on the back porch and finished it in a little over an hour.

2 comments:

Carlton said...

This is an intense and disturbing book about incest, family, recovering mother-daughter relationships, mythology, healing, urban violence, drugs, death, magic, and sex.

Great front-cover blurb.

C.J. said...

This book changed my life. I don't want to ruin the ending for anyone, but Jack's final line in the book gives me shivers just remembering it. So powerful. The whole book is just a work of art. Decrepit, brutally honest art.