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Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand
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Generation Loss (2007)

by Elizabeth Hand

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This book was very annoying to me at first. It felt very paint by numbers: bad ass protagonist (check) establishment of all physical objects that will be used later to resolve the conflict (check)....That the "bad ass" protagonist is from my generation makes her noir bullshit seem even more name-droppy and wishfulfilly. BUT something kinda hooked me and I think it was the love of landscape and the riffing on art's emergence from landscape. The creepiness of the "mystery" genuinely seemed inspired by the setting,
by northern Maine. The way the mystery played out was preposterous and, worse, ultimately unexciting, but the middle and its tacking back and forth between remote landscape and narrative import--that sparked some heat here and there. ( )
  wordlikeabell | Apr 20, 2017 |
Cass Neary was once a young photographer on the burgeoning punk scene who made a name for herself with a ground-breaking book, but a couple of decades later, she's burnt out, damaged, and still working in the storeroom at the Strand bookstore. A friend gives her a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interview her idol, Aphrodite Kamestos, who lives like a hermit on a remote island in Maine, and Cass takes it. When she gets there, she finds several people as damaged as she is, and she stumbles onto a mystery.

This is a story with a strong, unusual voice and a memorable, compelling setting, which more than makes up for there not being a lot of actual story, at least not until last third or so. I liked Cass primarily because she is so hard to like, because she does seemingly odd things mainly just to screw with people, and because her narrative voice seems so genuine. She is a person I believe in, not quirky just to be quirky, but quirky because that's what humans are. Pairing her with the island setting--remote, isolated, difficult both to get to and to get away from--works to take Cass out of her long-time comfort zone and yet situate herself in a place that might feel like home. Toward the end, the story is permeated by a wonderful neo-gothic atmosphere. All of this does make up for the rather breathless (and somewhat unbelievable) wrap-up to the plot, which almost felt beside the point anyway. ( )
1 vote sturlington | Mar 6, 2017 |
Damage. Hand is good at depicting, and talking about, damaged people. The protagonist of this book is damaged enough that she's hard to root for sometimes. She needlessly makes trouble, sometimes really bad trouble, for herself and pretty much anyone she comes into contact with. She has inexplicable impulses. She can be hateful. But . . . but she's articulate and observant and fierce. Much of the action of the story is implausible. But . . . there's enough good here to just roll with it. ( )
  ehines | Nov 26, 2016 |
Fascinating, dark, and disturbing story about a failed punk photographer who gets a gig writing about an artist whose work she always admired who lives on a Maine island with a group of demented ex-Hippies. One of those books you don't recommend lightly because the narrator can be infuriating and some of it is really - ugh. But I keep thinking about it.
  bfister | Aug 6, 2016 |
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Epigraph
I then realized that there was a sort of link (or knot) between Photography, madness, and something whose name I did not know.
—Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida (trans. by Richard Howard)
ART NEEDS LIGHT
look at the lack of it.
—Patti Smith, "sister morphine"
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For David Streitfeld, who asked for a letter from Maine
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There's always a moment where everything changes.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Patricia Highsmith meets Patti Smith when a down-and-out photographer and relic of the '70s NYC punk scene travels to an island off Maine in search of a reclusive and iconic artist.

Cass Neary made her name in the '70s as a photographer embedded in the burgeoning punk movement in New York City. Her pictures of the musicians and the hangers-on, the infamous, the damned, and the dead, got her into art galleries and a book deal.

Thirty years later she is adrift, on her way down, and almost out when an old acquaintance sends her on a mercy gig to interview a famously reclusive photographer who lives on an island in Maine.

When she arrives Downeast, Cass stumbles across a decades-old mystery which is still claiming victims, and into one final shot at redemption.

Haiku summary
Bleak winter landscape

Like a a faded photograph

Secrets and death waits

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0156031345, Paperback)

Praise for Elizabeth Hand's previous novels:

"Inhabits a world between reason and insanity-it's a delightful waking dream."--People

"One of the most sheerly impressive, not to mention overwhelmingly beautiful books I have read in a long time."--Peter Straub

Cass Neary made her name in the 1970s as a photographer embedded in the burgeoning punk movement in New York City. Her pictures of the musicians and hangers on, the infamous, the damned, and the dead, got her into art galleries and a book deal. But 30 years later she is adrift, on her way down, and almost out. Then an old acquaintance sends her on a mercy gig to interview a famously reclusive photographer who lives on an island in Maine. When she arrives Downeast, Cass stumbles across a decades-old mystery that is still claiming victims, and into one final shot at redemption.

Questions for Elizabeth Hand

Jeff VanderMeer for Amazon.com: Your novel Generation Loss introduces readers to a very eccentric and sometimes selfish photographer named Cass. Are all artists inherently selfish?

Hand: Yes. You can't be an artist without being inherently self-involved, without believing that the world owes you a living, and that everything you do--anything, matter how sick or twisted or feeble or pathetic--is worthy of attention. This is the secret behind the success of stuff like American Idol and YouTube. This is the world Andy Warhol bequeathed to us.

Amazon.com: Isn't it partially that selfishness that results in great fiction? Isn't the antagonist of your novel in a way driven by selfishness?

Hand: I don't think I'd call it selfishness, to be truthful. I think creating any real art depends on an intense amount of focus¬--of filtering out the rest of the world as much as you can, to sustain and then impart your own vision or secondary world--what John Gardner called "the vivid and continuous dream." I think the antagonist of Generation Loss sees himself as being impelled by love--romantic love, carnal love, the pure love of artistic creation--not selfishness. Whereas Cass's motivation is something far darker and more sinister than love. She's seen the abyss; she lives there.

Amazon.com: Is Cass Neary a prototypical "bad girl"?

Hand: Well, she's your prototypical amoral speedfreak crankhead kleptomaniac murderous rage-filled alcoholic bisexual heavily-tattooed American female photographer. So, yeah.

Amazon.com: So this is definitely not what you'd call "chick lit"?

Hand: Umm, probably not. If it were a movie, it would have a NC-17 rating. Or maybe NR. Is Lolita considered chick lit? That book had a huge influence on me, especially with this novel. I always wanted to create a narrator like Humbert Humbert, someone utterly reprehensible and unsympathetic who still manages to command a reader's attention and even an uneasy sympathy. I loved the idea of making a reader complicit with the crimes committed by a protagonist. The simple act of continuing to turn the pages makes you guilty by association.

Amazon.com: Did you have a particular artist in mind as the inspiration for the foul-smelling but visionary paintings in the novel?

Hand: No. That part I made up.

Amazon.com: C'mon. You're not allowed to just make things up. Spill the beans.

Hand: No, I really didn't have anyone in mind. There are elements of the work of photographers I admire--Robert Mapplethorpe, Cindy Sherman, Sally Man, Joel-Peter Witkin--and of outsider artists like Henry Darger or Richard Dadd or Roky Erickson. But the whole concept of an artist creating his own emulsion paper--I thought of that, then researched it and learned that, indeed, some photographers work that way. I also consulted a photographic conservator who's an acquaintance and asked him, Is this possible? He said yes, and I took it from there.

Amazon.com: Are people in Maine as mean toward tourists as you describe?

Hand: No. Just me. Though folks who work at the general store three doors down from me really do sometimes wear a T-shirt that reads THEY CALL IT TOURIST SEASON, WHY CAN'T WE SHOOT THEM? So, okay, me and them.

Amazon.com: Have you ever driven a tourist off your property with a shovel?

Hand: Not yet. But I would. A few years ago friend said he pictured me up on the Laurentian shield, threatening outsiders with a pitchfork. That's pretty accurate.

Amazon.com: Weren't you once a tourist?

Hand: Never. I lived in DC for 13 years, and worked for a long time at the Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum--Tourist Central. That effectively killed any sympathy I might ever have had towards them.

Amazon.com: What's coming up for you?

Hand: Well, I'll be doing some touring and readings for this book, and I hope to record the entire novel as a podcast/audio book--I'm very excited to be performing again. I'm presently at work on a YA novel about Arthur Rimbaud called Wonderwall, to be published by Viking, and am brooding on another novel that might be something along the lines of Generation Loss, or not. I get restless and like to shift gears a lot. So we'll see.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:17 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"Cass Neary made her name in the '70s as a photographer embedded in the burgeoning punk movement in New York City. Her pictures of the musicians and the hangers-on, the infamous, the damned, and the dead, got her into art galleries and a book deal." "Thirty years later she is adrift, on her way down, and almost out when an old acquaintance sends her on a mercy gig to interview a famously reclusive photographer who lives on an island in Maine." "When she arrives Downeast, Cass stumbles across a decades-old mystery which is still claiming victims, and into one final shot at redemption."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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