Generation Loss
by Elizabeth Hand
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Postmodern Mystery
Postmodern Mystery is a web site
devoted to experimental, unconventional
and postmodern approaches to stories
of mystery and suspense
While other authors retreat into the ivory
tower, Elizabeth Hand engages in a literary
career more akin to guerrilla warfare over
constantly changing terrain.  "I had to
become a writer," Hand has noted, “because
my education had
left me unsuited
for a decent well-
paying job." Along
the way, she has
drawn inspiration
from the Beats,
and punk rockers
and French sym-
bolist poets, but
Hand’s own work
defies pigeonholing.  
Indeed, few writers
have flourished in
a more diverse range of genres.  Hand’s
first story was published in
Twilight Zone
magazine, and she later created and wrote
the
Anima series for DC Comics. Hand’s
award-winning 1994 novel
Waking the Moon
delves into the gothic supernatural with a
heavy dose of mythic elements.  She has
also worked in straight sci-fi and authored
Star Wars series fiction, as well as
novelizations of various films.  On the other
hand, Hand’s novel
Generation Loss has no
element of the supernatural, fantastic or
technologically advanced about it—and
operates as a gripping, if unconventional,
psychological thriller.  The high-profile
commercial angle of many of these projects
might lead you brand this author as a
purveyor of escapism and formulaic fiction,
yet Hand defies simple categorization and
her best writing stands out for its risk-taking
and literary flair. “Real myths are often
strange and startlingly unfamiliar,” Hand has
noted, “and don't always give up their
meanings easily.”  A similar depth and
multivalent quality is also part of this author’
s wide-ranging body of work.
ROGUES GALLERY:
ELIZABETH HAND

Further Clues:

An Interview with Elizabeth Hand by Jeff VanderMeer

Elizabeth Hand's web site

Video interview with Elizabeth Hand from ReaderCon
2010
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

"Some people make their own bad luck," explains
Cassandra Neary, the narrator of
Generation Loss.  
"Others, I help them out."

Neary's life is a wreck, but it’s an open question
whether she inflicts the most damage on herself
or those around her.   Either way, the toll is
considerable.  As an experiment, try tabulating the
bad decisions, classless moves,
cheap shots, and broken laws
our heroine leaves in her wake
during the course of this novel
—I bet you will lose count be-
fore you’re fifty pages into it.   

Even so, Ms. Neary is not your
typical druggie burnout trouble-
maker, but once enjoyed a brief
taste of fame.  A photographer
who specialized in documenting
the seamier side of  New York
counterculture in the 1980s, her reputation rests on
a single book of disturbing images,
Dead Girls, which
created a short-lived buzz.  Amidst a peer group
that pushed the envelope, Neary pushed further
than most.  But that was decades ago, and our
narrator is now middle-aged, surviving paycheck to
paycheck as a stock room clerk at the Strand
Bookstore.  She’s older and obviously not much
wiser, but neither has she mellowed with age.   

It's testimony to the uneasy postmodern tenor of
this mystery that two-thirds of the way through you
still won’t be quite sure whether our narrator will
solve a crime…or perhaps commit one.  Lisbeth
Salander, of dragon tattoo fame, looks like a
candidate for girl scout troop leader by comparison
with this nihilist with a Konica.  At an accident site,
Neary is more likely to take snapshots than call for
help—indeed the equivocal role that texts and
textuality play in other postmodern mysteries is here
replaced by an obsession with images and
representation.
Death is eidos of the photograph, Neary
explains, citing Roland Barthes, but then continues:
"Not even death is static like a picture is.  If you
look at a corpse long enough, you see things move
beneath the skin, as real and liquid as the blood in
your own veins."

This conflict between image and reality plays out
even in the novel’s title.  No, it is
not an allusion to a
famous
quote by Gertrude Stein.   The term
ostensibly describes the gradual loss of
verisimilitude as an image is copied over and over
again.  Yet the idea that a different kind of
generation suffers a different kind of loss is equally
present in Hand's novel—and remains connected to
this same concept of images distancing us from the
reality they aim to depict.  

Neary is lured to a desolate coastal area in Maine,
where she has been promised an interview with
Aphrodite Kamestos, a reclusive photographer who
has stayed out of the public eye for many years.  The
interview proves problematic—Kamestos may be
even more of a burnout than Neary herself—but
during the course of the trip our narrator runs into
a troubling series of mysterious circumstances,
unanswered questions and possible clues.   A
teenage girl she encounters on her first night in
Maine goes missing the next day…and is only the
latest in a series of unexplained disappearances in
the area.  Wherever else our heroine turns, bad
things tend to happen—a few due to her own
intervention, some by accident, still others because
of causes unknown.  

Although certain familiar elements of genre fiction
appear from time to time in
Generation Loss, author
Elizabeth Hand avoids the usual formulas of
mystery and crime stories.  The opening three
chapters might convince many readers that this is a
book about drug addiction or borderline personality
disorder—intensely conceived and brilliantly
written, they are my favorite part of this novel,
although they do little to push forward the main
plot of
Generation Loss.  In truth, for most other
authors as schooled in genre fiction as Ms. Hand,
this type of character description and scene setting
would be mere boilerplate.  But here, as elsewhere
in the novel, Hand shows that she is as acute in
probing psychology as in setting up the "crime
scene investigation" details that are so popular in
contemporary storytelling.   Hand takes her time,
and the book benefits from her care and risk-
taking—yet, by the same token,
Generation Loss
never lags or loses its direction.  Indeed, one of the
great marvels of this novel is how the plot moves
forward even when the main characters seem too
psychically damaged to finish a game of checkers,
let alone solve a mystery.  

Make no mistake, this is a disturbing book—but
disturbing in a thought-provoking, rather than
merely gut-wrenching, manner.   Put simply, the
narrator of this story is not the only person who
values representation over reality, and even as you
are tempted to sit in judgment of these characters,
you may recognize something essential and
emblematic—and perhaps too close to home—
about their bad choices.  Indeed,
Generation Loss
does a striking job of exploring the grotesque side
of the postmodern ethos even as it embraces its
tenets.  But that critique is merely present as
implication, in a book that many will merely read as
a chilling thriller, and not be disappointed.

Ted Gioia's latest book is The Birth (and Death) of
the Cool
.
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