Mojo Disabled

A review of Nalo Hopkinson’s Sister Mine (Grand Central Publishing, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille06a88f39f94401a3f86871d46c3bf5f5

There is a beauty in complexity, an ethereal quality to the display of Otherness and the richness of diversity. Sister Mine evokes the complexity of reality, the beatuty and power evoked by the richness of the human experience. Nalo Hopkinson’s characters are diverse in cultural background, ability, and engagement with the body, as well as multifaceted in their engagement with the magical, the mythical, and the otherworldly.

Sister Mine is rich with characters who often are cast to the fringes, to the Other Worlds within our world, and it is appropriate that she sees these characters as full of potential, as full of the Otherworld, the complexly spiritual. Conjoined twins, people with mobility disabilities, characters of diverse ages, sexualities, psychologies, economic backgrounds, and ethnicities are pulled into the novel in unique ways as she gives voice to those who are often rendered voiceless in a society that is focused on normativity and de-voicing those who don’t fit into its narrow definition of normalcy. Hopkinson evokes the complex engagement between identity and the body, diverse ways of knowing ourselves and how we relate to our physicality – our world and the physical parameters of our bodies.

Makeda, born a conjoined twin with her sister Abby, the “crippled deity half breed” of a human and a celestial deity that is evocative of the vodoun Loa, has always craved the mojo that her sister possesses. Undergoing surgery to separate their bodies, Abby ended up with something that Makeda felt she lacked, a certain spiritual power and ability to render her power into the world in the form of her singing voice. Makeda is called the “donkey” of the relationship by her celestial family, seemingly without any power that would render her other than human. She feels herself incomplete, less than her sister and merely a vessel that carried her sister who others seem to view as superior to herself. Physically separated, she feels tied to her sister intimately, unable to find herself and her identity as something different from her family (a place that she feels has been made clear to her by her family’s rejection of her). She leaves her sister’s house in an attempt to make her way in the human “claypicken” world, as one of them since she feels that she has more in common with a humanity without mojo than with celestials whose mojo can at times make her feel disoriented and woozy.

Yet, even among a humanity that she feels she can relate to bodily, there is still distance. She is still the child of a father who is a deity (though transformed by his fellow deities into a human being that now is experiencing Alzheimer’s) and a mother who was transformed into a sea monster and has been distanced from her from birth… and she still receives regular visits from an uncle who is death personified and a family of deities that feel that they can interfere with her life because she is family and less than them because she doesn’t have any of the mojo of a celestial. Out of place everywhere she goes, Makeda is able to see more than others, notice things that others would disengage with in their attempt to render things ‘normal’ according to their own status quo and predictable patterns of behaviour. She is a body seeking identity and discovering that nothing about identity is certain or fixed, but rather exists in a flux and flow of changeability that doesn’t entirely relate to her bodily ontology. She is caught in a system where others feel that they can change things for the good of those whom they believe are less than themselves, and sees that intentions based in superiority are often built on shaky ground.

To discover more about the work of Nalo Hopkinson, visit her website at http://nalohopkinson.com/ .

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Shattered Glass

A review of Michael Rowe’s Wild Fell (ChiZine Publications, 2013)

Cover photo of Wild Fell courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Cover photo of Wild Fell courtesy of ChiZine Publications


By Derek Newman-Stille

Our worlds are shaped by memory, by our own histories and those of the people and places around us. Memory haunts the pages of Michael Rowe’s Wild Fell, and so does the loss of memory.

Jamie’s life has been shaped by memory and loss. His father is gradually losing his memory to Alzheimer’s, and, after a car accident, Jamie lost his own memory, and, particularly his own childhood, to brain damage. He is left in an uncertain place, a strange place between what he knows to be true and what he can’t trust in himself. He is left in a haunted space.

Ghost stories are dark reflections of our dreams about the past, our anxieties, our worries, and the things that we repress, and, from an early age when Jamie looked into his mirror, he could see a dark reflection of himself, a haunted presence from within, a friend within the mirror who haunted him and pushed him toward change. As a child, Jamie had created a friend to deal with loneliness, Mirror Pal, but over time she gradually started to take on a life of her own, shaping herself in his image and taking on an identity of her own as Amanda. She would speak through the young boy’s voice, shaping his throat into her words and trying to shape him into her own image by pushing him gradually to make decisions that she would make. His Mirror Pal made him her own dark reflection.

Small towns are haunted places, shaped by their own history and the gossip that permeates them, and Jamie is pulled toward the small Northern Ontario town of Alvina by this mirrored friend from the past. She leads him to a new home, abandoned to history and myth: Wild Fell. Jamie is led to this new (though ancient) home through a combination of losses – his father, his memory, his marriage, and his job. He seeks to create a new place of belonging… in a place that resists newness, an ancient house in the middle of an abandoned lake outside of a small town.

Wild Fell itself stands as a dark, ancient character, standing ominously on the precipice of history and evoking a timeless quality and the haunted potential of abandoned historical houses. It literally refuses to age, seeming to await its owner as though still occupied, as though its inhabitants are merely on a temporary vacation and will return at any moment. It is a place of returns.

We like to think of ourselves as having all of the power when buying a house – making it ours. But what if we are claimed by our houses? What if they chose us? What if ownership in turn owns us? We are terminal beings and our houses can outlast us – is it any wonder that they begin to accumulate memories, myths, and murmurs of the otherworldly? We are haunted by histories we are not part of – foreign terrains of the past that invite investigation.

In Wild Fell, Rowe reminds us that we create reality through memory, construct it out of flashes of neurons… and that reality can change as our memories change. Nothing is fixed, nothing static, but all shiftings of sleep sand and illusions. Wild Fell serves as a dark reminder that everything about our identity is changeable – gender, identity, personality, and desire. Our bodies and spirits interact in complex ways, and nothing about ourselves is stationary. Rowe explores the way we can change with changes in our memories, exploring the relationship between abuse and forgetting – memories that are erased due to trauma that re-surface late like an island in the centre of a dark lake. Wild Fell is made timeless by the abuse within its walls, the haunting return of the repressed – the shattered glass of our mirrored, reflected selves.

To explore some of Michael Rowe’s other work, you can explore his website at http://www.michaelrowe.com/ .

To get your own copy of Wild Fell, check out the ChiZine Publications website at http://chizinepub.com/ .