Thursday, October 8, 2009
Review: The Prettiest Girl in the Room by Mallory Path (Queer Dimensions)
Title The Prettiest Girl in the Room, from the anthology Queer Dimensions
Author Mallory Path
Editor James EM Rasmussen
Buy Link (ebook) Smashwords | MBaM | Mobipocket | Amazon.com
(trade paperback) Amazon.com | Barnes&Noble
I really liked this story. I'd love to just leave it at that, because I think it's worth plunging into all-unknowing, but I suppose that won't do for a review. But let me just put that out right from the start. I really liked this story.
There were so many elements I'm already a fan of and that have actually been on my mind a lot lately: a hard-boiled hero with a good heart; a futuristic city's seedy underbelly; pretty faces that are more than they seem; and a sci-fi story with a touch of noir. I won't lie, those things have been on my mind because I've been writing a story with similar themes, but Mallory Path has taken them places that are so uniquely hers.
She plunges us directly into the dirt along with Duster Mann, our hero, into a place known as "The Curls" (a body comes to The Curls for two reasons: to fuck or to die). Duster seems to be on the prowl; he spots what he likes in a trio of girls and immediately approaches one of them in particular. He pays for a favor and then another. Things unravel into a tangle of sex and secrets.
The greatest power of this story is without a doubt in Path's characters and their gradual reveal. As the story proceeds each of them is bared--some only a glimpse, like the flash of Faye's knives as she stands, twirling her skirt--and some stripped down, raw and vulnerable. Lyre in particular struck me direct in the gut. I think Path nails certain moments with Lyre in particular that left me clinging to every word. And Duster, who was so powerfully moved by a long ago encounter that he's carried those feelings to this day.
Path is an expert at drawing out characters I ache for, characters I easily sympathized with, who were more beautiful for being flawed. And she does it in a short time, never wasting words. She always manages to find that sweet spot, showing just enough to intrigue, to make you care. It's a skill to be envied.
Like everything else in her writing, Path uses her sex scenes to full advantage, opening her characters up, using those awkward, exposed moments to further her story and her characterization. It's an easy trap for an author to let her or his story fall apart when sex comes into the picture--it's a compelling topic, a powerful one, and can overwhelm. But Path uses her intimate moments to truly get intimate with her characters, to show us more of who they are--as such moments can do in real life--even while she writes prose that is undoubtedly erotic and sensual.
But she has also sketched out a world that I want more of--The Curls, of course, but other places too. What exactly is Duster Mann's job, with his data-goggles and thumb-scanner, that brings him all over the world? And who exactly is Lolly, with her encrypted mark and shifting presence? And every name seems to be a pseudonym, another mask.
The end of The Prettiest Girl in the Room leaves potential for more, and I'd definitely love to see more of either these characters or this world. Don't get me wrong--the story is a whole, and stands alone--but it also makes me feel the way I imagine Duster once felt, having glimpsed something that made him ache with something like love at first sight.
In accordance with the new FTC Guidelines for blogging and endorsements, Kiki Howell of An Author's Musings, would like to advise that in addition to purchasing my own books to review, I also receive books, and/or promotional materials, free of charge in return for an honest review, as do any guest reviewers.