THE ORIGIN OF STARS by Katherine Haake

Book Quote:

“And now, with the force more stunning than anything she had experienced before, her memory restored itself to her, dreams and all, and filled her with terrible pangs for what she had seen in the ice; she had seen, she knew, a deaf musician, a barefoot mountain climber with miniscule feet, a girl tattooed with a living dragon, a boy walking down the road. Each of these things she had seen had foretold both an end and a beginning, which, even in her current extremity, Eunice recognized as a choice.”

Book Review:

Review by Kirstin Merrihew (APR 27, 2010)

No, this isn’t a review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but The Origin of Stars and Other Stories does indeed spin a tale of a young woman with a dragon tattoo. Hen, short for Henrietta or Henry, “draws the design for the dragon herself, staying up late with her pen and inks, rousing herself from her dreams at just the particular moment they are most acute.” Hers is a “yellow-eyed, green-winged monster, with red claws and blue-striped nails.”

Hen is a college student in a city “perpetually blasted by light” in which the people are “brown-skinned and clear-eyed.” She’s taking a class called “Torture of the Middle Ages,” and doesn’t mind a bit of pain herself — in the right cause, such as a tattoo. She is also working for a white-haired hairstylist/barber named Felix (or Frank) to earn money for her tattoos and other necessities.

Felix had adopted an abused. flaxen-haired orphan boy from some unnamed country and called him Luke. Hen discovered that troubled Luke loved to dance. He wasn’t coordinated in other ways, but he would spin around the room “in a seamless, almost mesmerizing ripple, and it was so beautiful to watch.” Thus it came to pass that Hen and Luke “spent much of their idle time together watching MTV and, yes, dancing.”

Hen also had a young Afro-Asian lover named Scar (because he had one down the side of his face). Sometimes, the three of them spent time together too. Scar knew about Luke’s terrible first years and marveled at the boy’s talent: “Watching him dance now, Scar wants more than anything to crawl out of his own skin. He imagines himself glistening and new.”

One fateful night, Felix is out, so the three, exhausted, lie down on the carpet. “When the TV station finally goes off the air and passes into static, they had long since been breathing in tandem….This is not sleep exactly but something between sleep and something altogether different.” In the dream — or whatever it is — that follows, Hen’s dragon, Scar, and Luke’s anonymous mother become entangled in a surreal drama, and when Hen and Scar wake up, Luke is gone. Where did he go? Or was he never born? Was he just “a late-twentieth century harbinger of whatever in the world might be coming next?” Was he “the accumulated sum of all the different kinds of suffering Hen grew up with”? Was he the decline of the Caucasian population as other races increased their numbers? Was he a boy or a symbol? Or both?

The story of Hen, Felix, Luke, and Scar is entitled “The Opposite of Stone.” Summarizing it perhaps gives you an inkling of what the author, Katherine Haake, does in each of the eight different but thematically linked stories. Luke disappears, in a sense unique to “The Opposite of Stone.” Yet each of the other tall tales feature disappearances too:

  • A mother loses her sons, and although Haake notes, “It is this way with mothers and their sons forever and in all times,” it most certainly isn’t in the sense that this is more a modern pied piper twisted fairy tale than a conventional story of sons growing up and leaving the nest in the “normal” way.
  • A wife and mother leaves her family for an excursion of self-discovery, her parting note to her husband and sons only two sentences: “Think of me when you tie your shoes. You were all such wonderful boys.” As far as her frantic family is concerned, she has fallen off the face of the earth. Actually, she finds herself, after a few adventures with “gurus” of worldly experience, in a corn field. where she dreams about the others described in this collection (the opening quotation is taken from her story), and where she has to decide whether she wants her old life back.
  • A father and son each disappear from the life of the other: “Of course the only thing we know for certain is there was a river and there was a boy. The boy grew up, and when he was a man, he had a son. After a while, the man disappeared, and then the son did. These things happen all the time.” Again, they happen, but not in the phantasmagoric, shifting manner that prevails here” “And will your father, in the land that is absent of both trees and water — everything, besides you, that he ever loved — receive you with his open arms? Will he give you back your memory, and turn things around the right way again?”
  • In “The Origin of Stars” an astronomer named Hubert disappears from the public eye. But disappearance on a far grander scale comes later and causes him to decide “he had gone about everything wrong, and though he wanted more than anything to go back and do it over, it was too late and Hubert knew it.” This story melds momentous cosmic change with the regrets of a man at the end of life. Is it really the end of so much more than Hubert? Or is Hubert seeing his own life’s end as the end of everything because he, a mortal, cannot see beyond himself?

A “deaf” musician, and “a barefoot mountain climber with miniscule feet” do indeed also make their appearances in stories that if they were paintings could be brushed into existence by the likes of a Salvador Dali mind. Haake’s hypnagogic style intensifies her explorations of human frailty in synthesis with nature’s unconcerned march and the unpredictability of minds’ tricks. These are stories of dreamed millennial change, uncertainties, and anticipations. These are stories fusing the complexities of families into circular or spiraling confusions. These are stories of basic desires and their torments and rewards. These are stories that lead us down the subconscious path; that challenge us to free ourselves of rational expectations and allow ourselves to follow Haake down the rabbit hole where uncompromising shocks, philosophical murmurings, and sharp, embedded wit reveal themselves. The Origin of Stars and Other Stories is recommended to all those who are willing to be carried off in just such a way.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-5-0from 5 readers
PUBLISHER: What Books Press; First Edition (October 1, 2009)
REVIEWER: Kirstin Merrihew
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Katherine Haake
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: More “rabbit hole” fiction:

The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry

Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon


April 27, 2010 В· Judi Clark В· No Comments
Posted in: Short Stories, Speculative (Beyond Reality)

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