Saturday, June 18, 2011

Selah Saterstrom--The Meat and Spirit Plan

A poetic and fragmented novel, it follows a Mississippi girl from a very neglected home (one of the only scenes in which her mother appears is one in which her mother is admitting to being back on cocaine) to college, then to a special religious studies program in Scotland, and then back to Mississippi where she faces not only her mother’s death but comes close to her own.
The novel incorporates a lot of not only references to but quotes from heavy metal songs, especially by bands like Metallica, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden.  Not only does this ground the novel in a particular pop cultural context, but I think the heavy metal undercurrent strengthens the novel’s themes of violence and mythicness.  The fragmentation of the prose along with the unlikely journey that the narrator makes work with these lyrics (all of which, especially those by bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, are especially good at expressing mythic violence) to produce what is often a dream-like—or at times, nightmare-like—narrative. 
This is the first time I can think of that I’ve read a southern novel that calls on heavy metal in this way—I’ve read plenty that use country music or bands like Skynyrd, but I’m surprised that there’s not more, as it seems a really useful vehicle/motif for this kind of southern sense of place.
 I'm really surprised that I've never read Saterstrom before now.  This was such an amazing book. I went ahead and ordered her other novel, because I though this was so well-executed--I won't say I enjoyed the book, as it was much too bleak for that.  There were some really hilarious moments, though, especially in the academic sections.  She totally skewers sad poet boys who talk way too much about Derrida in seminars, and I'm pretty sure she's poking fun at Donna Tartt at one point as well.

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