Monday, January 10, 2005

The Innamorati by Midori Snyder

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

* Hardcover: 381 pages
* Publisher: Tor Books, 1998
* ISBN: 0312861974
* $24.95

Instantly - I'm there.

"The morning sun rose above the edge of a quiet green sea. Bright rays of light speared the waters of the laguna and transformed the canals of Venice into ribbons of flame. Burnished water splashed over the mossy walls of the canals, scattering droplets the size of sequins..."

This kind of writing gets me everytime, and Midori Snyder has got it. She tantalizes the reader with each word, with every lush phrase, she seduces and entangles into the fantasy world of her labyrinth, and she engrosses mercilessly, leaving the world outside of her written page pale and distant for the time it takes to disentangle oneself from her story and close the book again.

Snyder's fantasy is one of many players, all varied in lifestyle and enchantment, but all alike in that they are somehow cursed. The young actor stutters and cannot speak his lines clearly, though his words ring out when he is feeling unthreatened by other males who remind him of an abusive father figure. The mask-maker suffers torments of thorns inside her belly that tear also at her heart with regret, keeping her masks from taking on their usual aura of life. A swordsman wins battle upon battle, grown calloused to the act of killing, yet finally longs to be free of such a destiny. A siren is cursed to leave the sea and live ten years on the dry earth in utter silence, covered with a leathery skin of ugliness. The poet fails to win the love and loyalty of his philandering wife with his verses and finally loses her. The priest repeatedly falls into a gluttony of sexual pleasures forbidden to him, unable to abstain from such temptation. And there are more. The fantasy is peopled with rich characters, each one more colorful than the next. All travel to Labirinto to enter the magical maze to be freed - somehow, they do not know how - of their curses.

Curses are not always what we think they are. In some cases, it is indeed "be careful what you wish for, you just might get it..." In others, freeing oneself of a curse is perhaps not so much wrapped in a magical spell as facing a fear and confronting it. In many, they find wisdom when they understand the reason for their own emptiness. In most, going beyond the superficial and delving into the depths of the human soul and its nature is the maze leading to a deeper love.

"A true hero is the one who knows that often as not the dragon is in the damsel and not the other way around," says one character. "Could you love your damsel, even if she showed you her fangs? Could you embrace what is terrifying in her as well as what is lovely? True love, Signore, must be willing to lift the mask and kiss whatever hides beneath."

Indeed, the characters find, each in their own way, that many of their curses, if not in fact all, are lifted by the "magic" of a freeing love, whether for one self, for one another, or for one's art. Even the poet who could not hold on to his wife's heart by mere verse alone at last understood that a woman does not so much wish to be loved through the lofty words of high poetry... as she wishes to be loved for the flesh and blood and spirit of woman, good and bad, found beneath the lifting of that mask, her lover being willing to kiss whatever hides beneath. She might be pleased and flattered by the pretty words, but she needs the man behind the words to be a real husband. The siren, too, finds her own return to the waters of her home even as she leads her love, a man from the land, to a heart freed to love fully only when he is able to remove himself from his past, his earthly miseries and worries and concerns. To gain love, he must let go, and he must risk.

"You must follow me as empty of experience as a newborn infant," says the siren to her lover. "Leave behind all memory, all thoughts of anger, of jealousy, of desire and longing. Leave behind, too, the fear of death. These are stones that will plunge you below the waves. Forget them, forget yourself, and surrender to my voice. That is how you will lose your curse and be reborn... it's up to you."

The journey to the center of Labirinto is a magical one, but no more magical than everyday life and our own everyday curses. Only Snyder transforms them, us, into willing travelers along the path her words lead us along for a literary adventure we are reluctant to leave. Curses. Because, but for several annoying typos missed by editors, "Innamorati" is a masterpiece of imagination and literary skill.

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