Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand
Generation Loss (2007) is a Shirley Jackson Award winner and the first in Elizabeth Hand’s CASS NEARY thriller series. Cass is a washed-up, alcoholic photographer who was briefly famous in the 1970s for her images of the punk scene. Now middle-aged, she’s struggling, and a friend offers her a job interviewing another photographer, Aphrodite Kamestos, who had her own heyday in the 50s and 60s and now lives reclusively on a remote Maine island.
The job quickly proves to be harder than Cass expected. It’s much too cold for Cass’s New York wardrobe. The locals are aloof. People and cats have been mysteriously disappearing. And Aphrodite had no idea Cass was coming. Cass wants to leave, but circumstances keep her in Maine longer than she intended — which positions her to solve the disappearances, if she can keep her own inner demons at least somewhat under control.
Cass is a character who’s hard to like. She steals, drives drunk, hit a girlfriend once. That’s not to even mention a couple of acts she commits later in the novel that are shocking in their callousness. Yet one has some sympathy for her as well. I can’t think of anyone who does “I never became who I was supposed to be” quite like Hand.
Hand’s skill is also on display in the smooth way she rolls out the narrative from the beginning; I love the way she fills in years of backstory in very little page space but leaves you feeling like you lived those years nonetheless. The sensory writing, too, is fantastic; after a few days of Cass in Maine, you’ll start to feel like you’ll never be warm again.
Some of Hand’s other novels deal with gods returning to the world, often pitting the protagonists against fanatical cult members. Generation Loss has little to no supernatural element; the divine does not intervene as it does in, say, Waking the Moon. But Hand is still exploring issues of faith and fanaticism here. What shapes a person’s belief system, and how does that belief system shape them in turn?
At its heart, Generation Loss is a mystery novel. There were enough breadcrumbs that I was able to figure out whodunit, but the more interesting questions here are “What is the ‘it’ that the baddie is doing? And why?” When the answer was revealed, it was weirder than I’d ever expected, and yet fit perfectly with the groundwork that Hand had set up.
For those who like warnings, there is a rape (in Cass’s past) and a massive amount of animal death.
Generation Loss is followed by Available Dark, which I immediately went looking for after finishing. Hand skillfully blends creepiness, melancholy, and weird religion to create a seductive brew.
I think now I only read AVAILABLE LIGHT (?). I remember the MC being complicated and engaging.
She is definitely complicated! :)
It’s that punk influence!