Whatever the genre, it’s always fascinating to see how authors choose to structure their work.
In CURVA PELIGROSA, Lily Iona Mackenzie posits what’s real and what’s fantasy with a painter’s brush creating color and contrast and a poet’s ear allowing us to hear the nuances of reality and imagined truths.
As Curva herself travels through time and space with an urgent need to make every moment meaningful, the reader is, as if galloping along, following her every move so as not to miss a moment on her quest to conquer time, to breathe life into all the seeds she plants and to share them with whomever she meets.
As in her debut novel, FLING!, here, too, MacKenzie has the reader bouncing about along with her main character, Curva, and her boundless energy, not always knowing where she is or what time it is. Yet, she describes everything—all that seems real and in the moment as well as what her rich imagination conjures up—with the same degree of mystical and magical eloquence.
From the start, Curva tells us that she has learned much of what she knows and thinks about life and death from reading Don Quixote to whom she refers to often enough to make us hypnotically aware of the parallels in their lives—each illuminating aspects of human nature as they whip us into a frenzy of fantasy and madness mixed with a measure of reality, all the while challenging and awakening our senses and sensibilities.
Unlike most other women in the town of Weed, Alberta, Curva is a 6 feet tall voluptuous woman who exudes her own brand of power as a palm reader, mid-wife, healer, mother, and lover who refuses to settle for the ordinary or the mundane. She is thought of by others as “untamed” and “unpredictable.” Her appetite for travel, along with her lack of sexual inhibitions is as compelling as her unquenchable thirst for discovering the deepest mystery of all—a desire to discover a potion to prolong life, a lesson she learned from Don Quixote that “too much sanity may be madness—and maddest of all is to see life as it is, and not as it should be.” She will not be robbed of her dreams nor her belief that immortality is attainable. “It puzzles her,” Mackenzie writes, “that while sleep resembled death in that she lost consciousness, she always woke in the morning. Why, then, couldn’t humans wake from death in a similar way? Why couldn’t they live forever? What was the secret?”
A secret, indeed! So we experience her as a very real albeit eccentric woman, with a need to walk the earth (traveling across the Old North Trail for twenty years before the book even begins and before she plants herself in the town of Weed)—as Don Quixote coined the phrase, “those who walk much and read much, know much and see much.”
Throughout her journey, Curva develops an ability to nurture all things in the natural world—all that grows from a single seed to every animal that breathes and basks in the lands they inhabit. Yet she also travels internally, exploring the psychological underpinnings that hold us in her grip—all that propels her into action, giving her permission to feel at once fully human and at the same time capable of dancing around truths that others don’t see or that they take for granted. Perhaps most impressive of all is the effect she has on all who cross her path, leaving them changed forever, as she herself changes with time.
Yet Mackenzie’s Curva does know how “transitory” her powers are and how “fickle” time can be. Following the teachings of Don Quixote, she exemplifies wisdom, “knowing that things aren’t always as they appear on the surface, she studies what is happening around her for its hidden meaning, trying to discern the message it carries.” She studies all that is found beneath the surface of the earth’s soil as well as beneath the superficial surface of most people, telling us: “the roots, the plant’s lifeline, worked in the dark to absorb nutrients from the soil that were then passed along to leaves, vegetables, and flowers. They in turn converted sunlight into energy that stimulated the ongoing process. This dynamic helped her to appreciate her friend Billie’s belief in a land of the dead.”
When Billie becomes chief of his Blackfoot tribe, he addresses a crowd at his father’s burial ceremony, asking them: “What is life?” In words that can only be described as poetic, he paints his vision: “It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of the buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” He ends by saying: “My father’s spirit has left his body and is traveling westward across the prairie grass, over the Bow River, and into the mountains. It ascends the mountains to the high clouds where a bright light will guide it to the place where loved ones wait to embrace it. The spirit lives forever.”
Curva, too, is fascinated by all that is transformed into spirit. “Metamorphosis” she tells us, happens constantly. “One thing changed into another form, like the clouds’ transmutations, the graceful way they shifted shape.” She sees, death, too, as just another stage in life’s on-going process.
She channels Xavier, her dead twin brother’s energy, and as his essential spirit appears to her, he reminds her that he always loved magic and “death is all about sleight of hand. Making things disappear . . . death is a magician. Now you see someone, now you don’t. Here today, gone tomorrow.”
As she continues her life’s journey throughout the novel, the other supporting characters—along with Billie and Xavier—reflect her own yearnings and self-imposed challenges. Her dog, Dios, serves as her side-kick as Sancho Panza does for Don Quixote; her daughter Sabina (whose conception and birth remain a mystery) reflects her mother’s quest to better understand all of life’s mysteries, but she does so through the use of a camera’s lens.
Even as Curva’s story comes to its literary end, MacKenzie writes a magnificent “Coda.” She refuses to allow us to lazily accept a conventional ending, an easy wrap. She tells us what we always think as we complete reading any good story and wonder what happens to the places and all who peopled its pages.
Like her character, Curva, she begins the coda by saying: “This isn’t the end of the story, of course. Curva and Billie could have many years ahead of them, and she’ll likely continue her search for immortality, not realizing that she and the others will live on not only in this book but also in your imagination.” Likewise, she fills in the blanks of possibilities we may consider . . . and as Billie describes death as a part of the life cycle, MacKenzie refuses to have her story end. In so doing, she gifts us by opening the door to other magical and mystical possibilities, thereby allowing the book’s spirit to live on.
Thanks to Linda Appleman Shapiro http://applemanshapiro.com/ for this thoughtful, inspiring review!