Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Mouth of the Lion

I never really understood what literary types meant by "gritty" until I read Mouth of the Lion by Lily Richards (Casperian, 2006). Gritty is going along for the ride as James, the novel’s narrator, mixes up a batch of methamphetamine and injects it into his arm. Gritty is watching helplessly while Luka, the narrator’s brother, injects himself repeatedly with the same drug in order to prove that he’s attained godhood. Gritty is feeling your stomach turn each time James’s telephone rings because you know the news won’t be good.

Yet the grit in Mouth of the Lion isn’t just there for its own sake, and Richards doesn’t simply revel in gut-wrenching, meticulous detail for the sheer fun of it. Instead, Mouth of the Lion expertly blends grit with heart, and the novel’s focus on the ties that bind offers a deeply moving and complex investigation of familial love. As James struggles to manage his relationship with Luka, he also comes to realize that he can’t save Luka on his own and that he needs the wider network of his estranged brothers to come to grips with the past that drove the family apart.

Ultimately, Mouth of the Lion is about honestly dealing with the past. Fairly early in the novel, Luka proclaims that we all make our own gods and that we make the gods we deserve. This formulation, however, is perhaps too simplistic, too moralistic. While the novel certainly makes a case for the notion that we all make our own gods, it also interrogates the second half of Luka’s dictum thoroughly. We don’t necessarily make the gods we deserve, this interrogation suggests; rather, we make the gods that circumstances demand. We make the gods that allow us to make sense of the world, to make sense out of chaos. We make the gods that allow us to get by.

Gritty, heartfelt and intelligent, Mouth of the Lion is the first offering from Casperian Books. Other titles in the Casperian catalogue include Paul Elwork’s The Tea House and A.F. Rutzy’s promising End Credits. Definitely a publisher worth a second (and third!) glance.

Visit Casperian Books at Casperianbooks.com.

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