SCI FICTION, August 3 and 10, 2005

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"Abimagique" by Lucius Shepard

"Abimagique" by Lucius Shepard nicely demonstrates why he is one of the best modern writers. It is written in second person, which I usually find awkward; but in this case, the writing is so absorbing that it allows the reader to experience the events on a very personal, visceral level.

The protagonist of the story is a graduate student who starts an obsessive relationship with Abi, a massage therapist. From the very beginning it is clear that Abi is quite different—beneath her goth chick façade, there appears to be a genuine belief in the supernatural. And soon, when a crippled stranger accuses Abi of crippling all her lovers, things grow even stranger.

There are quite a few supernatural elements—angels, their descendants, a world-wide conspiracy of people who control mysterious forces, and Tantric sex magic. But the focus is always on the protagonists and their interactions. Ever since I read Mr. Shepard’s novella "The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule," I believed that nobody depicts obsessive love with such intense conviction and honesty as he. "Abimagique" strengthens this notion; I identified with the protagonist so much that even the behaviors that I would consider self-destructive in other contexts made perfect sense.

The writing is beautiful and entrancing, as one would expect from this author. The imagery is as strange as it is believable. For example, "Sleet begins falling, sounding like a series of little slaps against the kitchen’s tarpaper roof, slimy drops oozing down the panes like the thick crystalline blood of some magical creature—a translucent angel, a hazy gray gargoyle—who’s been crouched up there for years." This image is so familiar and yet so eerily vivid, that one has to envy the author’s ability to make simple and common things magical.

One of Mr. Shepard’s greatest strengths, the focus on the character, results in some of the plot issues being pushed into the background. I usually don’t mind that, but this story left me with several questions. Although I enjoyed the open ending, there were many issues that were hinted at, but never quite addressed—what was the Bottom? How did angels fit into Abi’s rituals? What happened to Reiner, the crippled man? How did Abi’s magical powers tie into all that? In the end, these questions left me pondering the story for hours, constantly returning to it, trying to puzzle out some of the answers.

A wonderful read, a work of keen insight and frightening imagination. Even though it is quite long, the expert pacing makes it a quick, feverish read.