Gary Guinn

Literature of the Ozarks

The Guest Cat, by Takashi Hiraide, an Imagist Novel

Takashi Hiraide’s short novel The Guest Cat (136 pages) is difficult to categorize. Hiraide is a well-known Japanese poet, and this little book reads like an Imagist poem. Each of the twenty-nine short chapters is itself an image, or a tableau, that adds a piece to the larger puzzle. The chapters at times seem almost independent of the story. At times, they meander into brief musings on philosophy, art, music, and science. And though none of these musings points the reader directly toward interpretation of the story, they are all weighted with meaning. Hiraide seems to follow Emily Dickinson’s dictum to “tell all the truth, but tell it slant.”

A young couple, both writers, no children, no pets. A neighborhood cat begins to visit, begins to stay, but never really stays. A surprising turn of events changes the lives of the young couple. The plot of the novel could be summarized in just a few sentences, but the layering of images, events, and emotions–as in any good imagist work–creates a rich fabric of possibilities. The Guest Cat is a novel, a poem, about love, about vulnerability. It is about the cost of opening your life to the other.

Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad Is a Fun Ironic Romp

Book Cover

Penelope Speaks

Margaret Atwood’s short novel The Penelopiad, a retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey from the perspective of Penelope. With the help of the Twelve Maids, the story becomes a delightful romp. Atwood offers a quasi-Greek drama, with the narrative split between Penelope and the Twelve Maids, who serve as a chorus. Penelope’s voice is deeply ironic, which offers the reader a whole new perspective on the hero Odysseus and on Penelope herself as the archetypical faithful wife.

Characters and Irony

Atwood uses not only Homer’s Odyssey but also certain critical issues that surround that work, along with her own questions about Homer’s treatment of Penelope and the Twelve Maids, to mine the ancient material for a wide range of humorous possibilities. The son, Telemachus, is a spoiled brat. The faithful old servant, Eurycleia, is an interfering busybody, referred to as “the trusted cackle-hen.” The chorus of maids enters regularly, performing in a different genre each time—a rope-jumping rhyme, a lament, a popular tune, an idyll, a sea shanty, and so forth. And though Penelope maintains her iconic role as innocent and faithful wife throughout, the truth of her narrative is undercut by her own ironic tone and by various accusations made by the chorus along the way.

A View from Hades

One of the most enjoyable moves Atwood makes is to place Penelope in Hades while she tells the tale. The opening line of the book is “Now that I’m dead, I know everything.” This allows Atwood to make two additional narrative moves that add humorous layering to the tail. In Hades, Penelope meets various other characters from The Odyssey, including Helen, the cause of all Penelope’s troubles, one of the suitors slaughtered by Odysseus, and the Twelve Maids. Additionally, she narrates the story from current time, contemporary with the reader, a fact the reader only gradually becomes aware of, which allows her to make ironic comments about our times, her times, and times in between.

Vintage Atwood

For readers who are familiar with Homer’s Odyssey and who enjoy an ironic and iconoclastic voice, The Penelopiad will be a fun read. It’s quite different from Margaret Atwood’s better known and more serious work, but it’s vintage Atwood nonetheless.

Sacrificial Lam, Free or $.99, Get It Now During This Promotion

If you’re looking for a Summer Read, Felony Fiction is doing a promotion through the rest of this month (May). You can get a free e-copy of Sacrificial Lam at their page. Here’s the link:  .  Just follow the link and get it from the publisher for free.Sacrificial Lam cover image

If you’d rather get it through Amazon, the e-book is on sale there for $.99 through May 25. Here’s the link: .

If you know anyone who might want to get the novel while it’s being promoted, feel free to pass this on. Or just post it anywhere you like.


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