Sunday, April 15, 2012

Pearls by Priya Sharma

Nervous Breakdown by
Julia Martínez Diana
Pearls is a short work of speculitive fiction that appears in the most recent issue of the speculitive fiction magazine Bourbon Penn.

It follows the snake-haired character of Greek mythology, Medusa, through two narratives – that set in ancient Greece where she and Poseidon are passionate lovers, and that set in the modern world where she works as an artist and falls for a stranger named Paul.

While not something I’ve encountered often, I tend to enjoy stories where the narrative is disconnected at two opposing points of the protagonist’s life. The way Sharma does this with the Medusa is reminiscent of how Le Guin writes chapters in The Dispossessed to alternate between Shevek’s growing up on the anarchist Annares and his visit to the money and power-driven Urras. The two narratives work to give a holistic representation of the main character and elucidate why she is the way she is. Naturally, once we know Medusa’s background we better understand her actions, thoughts and motivations in the modern world, particularly in terms of why her relationship with Paul proceeds the way it does. And in Pearls, this back-and-forth transition between two time periods is especially fun given that the modern world is so devoid of the supernatural elements of Ancient, mythical Greece. Medusa is the same girl in both times, but she seems tragic and out-of-place in modernity.

One of the story’s bigger strengths is its dialogue that frequently comes in short bursts that gives little away:

"You never take your glasses off." Paul spoke between mouthfuls.
"I've a rare eye condition. My specialist told me to keep my glasses on."
"I'm sorry." Paul looked at me as though he could diagnose the fault through my lenses.
"That's nice."
"What is?"
"Nice of you to be sorry." I stirred my cappuccino. The cocoa dust mingled with the froth. It looked like marbled paper.
"I love your style– the boots, the dreds, the headscarf. Where are you from?"
"Here and there. I've travelled a lot."
"Europe mostly." I tore open a croissant, scattering flakes.
"Doing what?"
"Painting. Dancing. Idling."

It entices the reader to draw assumptions and search for what is not being said; to fill the gaps while allowing a deeper story to develop in a shorter span of time. It feels like much has been conveyed by the end of the 4300 words.

Unfortunately, it’s not hard to “get” what Paul is all about before Medusa does, and as such the ending isn’t much of a surprise. But the sudden influx of images and descriptions from Medusa’s past when she and Paul are alone in his apartment create a sweet connection between the two narratives that still make the ending satisfying. The Medusa who awoke in the modern world is her real self again by the story’s conclusion, despite being thousands of years away from home.

The mixing of mythology within a contemporary setting is something that should be explored more often. There's something about the magic of ancient myths infiltrating our dead-pan modern society that makes for a really engaging and enjoyable read.

No comments:

Post a Comment