Essay: On Elizabeth Hand’s Cass Neary Novels

After reading my review of Elizabeth Hand’s Available Dark in the Washington Post, my editor at Mystery Scene asked if I’d like to weigh in at a little more length on both of Hand’s novels featuring photographer Cassandra Neary — and needless to say, I was enthusiastic to do so. My essay “Where the Ripped Edges Peel Away” — discussing Generation Loss and Available Dark — appears in the just-released Spring 2012 issue of the magazine, packaged alongside a revealing interview with Hand by novelist Paul Doiron. Here’s the opening paragraphs of my essay:

In Greek mythology, Cassandra was the prophetess unheeded, a woman both gifted and cursed by her foresight of death and destruction (the fall of Troy, the slaying of Agamemnon) and scorned by an audience of mockers who refused to believe her dark visions.

Cassandra Neary, the could’ve-been-somebody photographer in Elizabeth Hand’s Generation Loss and Available Dark, possesses a special sight as well. As a youth, she experienced visions no one else shared: a striated eye looming in the sky, for example, and a man with green-flecked eyes touching her forehead in a dream, leaving a blinding flash on the very morning she received a camera as a birthday present. As a photographer years later, especially during the heyday of New York’s punk scene, she shot “whatever was going on, speed, smack, sex, broken teeth, broken bottles, zip knives” before moving on to even bleaker subjects: “Pigeons flattened upon the curb; a corpse washed up on the shore of the East River, flesh like soft gray flannel folded into the mud; a stripper at a Broadway club sleeping between acts, her exposed breast like a red balloon where the silicone had leaked beneath the skin.” Her own single work of photography was the collection Dead Girls, which included self-portraits recreating macabre tableaux from famous paintings.

In addition to that package of articles on Hand, the issue in general offers a fine mix of features, including a cover story on thriller writer Thomas Perry, remembrances of both playwright Anthony Shaffer and recently deceased novelist Reginald Hill, and an appreciation of Jane Langton, author of the Homer Kelly series about a homicide detective turned Harvard professor. — Art Taylor

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