Cadaver: A Bittersweet Love Story

This may sound meaner than I intend, but the macabre sweetness of Cadaver: A Bittersweet Love Storyby Jonah Ansell made me like it despite the egregious poetry. For example lines such as:

LET IT GO!
Bequeath to me
The organ that was meant for she

Should be strangled with piano wire. I get you’re going for the rhyme word there, what with the she, and I know that English is a rhyme-poor language and all that noise, but it’s her. The organ that was meant for her. Don’t sacrifice grammar for the rhyme, or you sacrifice sense for artifice. That is a direct object, and while we don’t do a lot of case-changes in English, we do them with personal pronouns, and…I’m sorry. I get that my head is coming to a point here, and that this sort of thing will not bother many people. I am, as the kids say, just saying. (I don’t even know if kids say that anymore. Off my lawn.)

So, now that I’ve begun by flipping out about prosody and grammar, here is why I still liked this odd little book. First, this story was written for a brother for his sister on her first day in med school dissecting cadavers. That’s adorable, and also creepy. I love eavesdropping art – or maybe I just love the idea of it – art that was created by this one person for this other person, and then somehow, it ends up out in the world, and we get to pretend we know something about the artist and the audience of one. It might be that all or most art is eavesdropping art, everyone writing to that audience they imagine, which doesn’t, ultimately, include me but in the abstract, and I listen in behind my book. I like that idea. I like that I thought that while reading this.

The sister-character with her too-large square glasses and fearful little face cuts open the chest of her first cadaver. (Random aside: while I was taking Russian, I learned there are classes of nouns that are animate, and ones that are inanimate; this only become important when conjugating certain nouns or something? Living things are, obviously, animate. But there are – at least – two words for dead body in Russian, one of which is animate, and one that is inanimate. (Sub-aside: we were reading that Akhmatova poem about the true love who washes up on the beach of the Black Sea, which is why we were talking about this at all. His dead body was the animate kind of corpse, but not, like, in a zombie way.) Point being, we had this long conversation about what the English equivalent would be, and corpse we decided was the animate, andcarrion the inanimate. Cadaver, now that was a trickier case. Obviously inanimate, on one level, used at is almost always in medical or scientific contexts to strip the body and its attendant death of personality. But on another level, there’s this sense of industry and learning in this term, the vessel for occult and revealed knowledge or something.)

Once the sister-character pulls out the cadaver’s heart, he gets up off the table – but not, like, in a zombie way – and begs to road-trip to see his wife one last time. The road trip with cadaver parts were my favorite, him in his ass-showing medical smock, her at the wheel of a big American convertible. The prosody even tightened up long enough for me to stop hating it every second of my life, and there’s a quatrain or two I thought were honestly funny. Then he meets his wife and…well, the rest here is spoilers.

comic panel showing an old man and a child in a car, the child is driving. They both look very excited

The price of admission was probably paid by a link at the end of the book that took me to the short film version of this story, along with a password. The cadaver is voiced by Christopher Lloyd, for chrissakes! One point twenty one gigawatts! The doggerel sounds better coming from voice actors and not my internal Minnesota accent, and some of the switch-backs and reveals work better in moving pictures than still. I suspect the film came first, putting this book in the same category as The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, where the book is more of an artifact of a film than a full-blown work. (Not that I have a problem with that. It is, as the kids say, what it is. Get off my lawn.) Interestingly, or maybe only interesting to me, but I can think of many more books made into film than the other way around, stuff like Lost Thing by Shaun Tan. I pretty much want to eat everything that man does with a spoon, though. But not, like, in a zombie way.

Just kidding. Totally in a zombie way.

I received my copy from netgalley.com.

Exit Kingdom by Alden Bell

Even though I knew full well that a sequel to The Reapers Are the Angels was bound and determined to disappoint a mite, I freaked out anyway and ordered a copy from England. America, why you no publish Exit Kingdom? I fairly loved Reapers, with its blurry genre lines and metaphysical America, a long toothpick poling the detritus in our bloody civic teeth. I can see why some readers wouldn’t cotton to it: the heavy allusiveness and almost overt symbolism, the dialect, the stripped punctuation, the zombies. But I loved Temple. I loved her fierce orphan pragmatism, a child of the apocalypse more easy with wastelands and the dead than nail-bitten civilization and the living. She was all squinting prairie hardness and kudzu tenacity. 

Exit Kingdomis less sequel and more companion novel, a recounting by Moses Todd five years after the events in Reapers of five years before the same. Moses Todd may have been an anchor to the events of Reapers, but he was not the center, and his centrality here is uneasy and reactive. There’s another girl, the Vestal Amata, whose central mystery did not resonate with me, whose femininity and changeability seemed the kind of thing a man would understand about a woman’s nature, but no woman would ever feel inside herself, about herself. That’s fine, on some level: this is a man’s story of a woman, and not her own. People are told in many ways. 

Moses and Abraham Todd are moving aimlessly through the American wasteland. Abraham isn’t right, a predatory monster, and Moses with his unspoken code plays brother’s keeper. They are given charge of a woman, the Vestal Amata, who has a strange thrall on the unquiet dead. The dead are blind to her and her movements. Though there is no section like the hillfolk sequence in Reapers that I actively disliked, the conflicts and personalities here felt more forced throughout, more schematic. The landscape, and especially the dead themselves, that I found even more strong than in the previous novel: Moses’s hands on the bellies of airplanes in a rusting hangar; the eyes of a dead man slowly blinking under ice; the dry bones trying to stand in the desert aridity. 

So, if you enjoyed The Reapers Are the Angels, you will likely enjoy this, but in a worn way, in a way that tries to recapture a dream slipped out like a fish. Now that I write that, I remember with a painful clarity the nightmares I had from this book last night – a nightmare far out of scale from the near placid and resigned tone of this book. There were children – a school room – and so much blood from biting as the infection spread from child to child. Today’s events in Connecticut – I cannot stop crying. I dream nightmares that come true. Oh, America, I fear and grieve for you so much. Moses Todd does too, and that part we can agree on.