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Ceridwen

Ceridwen

You kids get off my lawn. 

City of Illusions - Ursula K. Le Guin I'm a little loaded, not much, but certainly enough for some semi-drunken squee about an author I love. The advantage of not being entirely loaded is that typing is much, much easier. I've been thinking about this book recently, because I've had the stomach flu. I don't mean to imply that vomit makes me think of this book, because yuck and sorry UKL wherever you are. But because I've been thinking of all the stuff one turns to in illness as touchstone or comfort or whatever. There's absolutely no good reason why I should think ginger ale does anything restorative at all, other than the fact that my folks plied me with it as a child when I was miserable and sick, and the idea of its restorative powers gets transmitted, and there I am, with my ginger ale, on the couch, hoping the misery might stop.

Ursula K Le Guin is my ginger ale. She's also the Taoist grandmother I never had, the smartest living person I've never met, and my biggest literary crush. I think, probably, (why do I do all this conditional bullshit?) that an artist is best understood through their misfires, the books or movies or whatever that simply do not work. I also kind of love Wong Kar Wai, even though I have haven't exhaustively gone through his filmography like I have with Le Guin's work. I recently watched “My Blueberry Nights”, which is a misfire too, but I'd rather watch that than just about anything, because in the days and weeks after watching, I still have moments where I stop and see the incredible beauty and melancholy of the images he made. Sure, the whole project was entirely too Method, and Norah Jones was horribly out-classed by, like, everyone (sorry Norah!), but there's something about it that may not be real in the strictest sense of the word, but was still true. You know?

Oh, crap, I'm babbling. To the review! This book does not work. It's a mess. And that's the thing: I might not love this book as much as I do if I hadn't gotten an edition out of the library that had an introduction by UKL herself. I don't have this edition; I have one that collects her early three Hainish novels into one book. After I finish this review I'm going to have to go drunkenly onto Amazon – never a good idea – to find the one I read because the intro makes the book in all ways. Apparently, and based solely on my horrifyingly bad memory, Ms. Le Guin wrote this entire novel, and then lost the manuscript. It was gone; it was never coming back. So she sat down to write again, haunted by this lost book, by the persistent sense that what she wrote and lost was better, that what she was doing was a resuscitation that missed all the vital organs.

So this book is a memory of a thought based on a conversation Le Guin had with her daughter. She relates a tale – again in an introduction I read at least two years ago – about talking to her daughter about Bad Guys. Kids have weird ideas about Bad Guys, trust me, positively Manichean. So Le Guin set to writing a story about Bad Guys, which is somehow totally antithetical to her whole oeuvre, but she did it anyway, for the love of child. There are things in this novel that really stick in my brain, like the vast, strange, regrowing forests of a post-apocalyptic North America, the Thurro-dowists – sound it out, it's funny, really – the clever conceit of a mind split and then re-joined. It doesn't work; it can't really, because Le Guin herself can't believe in the basic precepts, but there's something beautiful and moving and sad about the lost manuscript, the daughter, the attempt to write something that occurs beyond belief, beyond knowledge.

I have now slipped entirely into I Love You, Man, but I don't feel bad about it at all. I love you, Ursula K Le Guin, wherever you are, especially when you make mistakes. May all of our mistakes be so lovely.