Generation Loss: A seductive brew of creepiness, melancholy, and weird religion

Generation Loss by Elizabeth Handfantasy book reviews Elizabeth Hand Generation LossGeneration 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.Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand

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.

Cass Neary — (2007-2016) Young adult. Publisher: Cass Neary made her name in the 1970s as a photographer embedded in the burgeoning punk movement in New York City. Her pictures of the musicians and hangers on, the infamous, the damned, and the dead, got her into art galleries and a book deal. But 30 years later she is adrift, on her waydown, and almost out. Then an old acquaintance sends her on a mercy gig to interview a famously reclusive photographer who lives on an island in Maine. When she arrives Downeast, Cass stumbles across a decades-old mystery that is still claiming victims, and into one final shot at redemption.

Elizabeth Hand Generation LossElizabeth Hand Cass Neary 1. Generation Loss 2. Available Dark


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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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3 comments

  1. I think now I only read AVAILABLE LIGHT (?). I remember the MC being complicated and engaging.

  2. It’s that punk influence!

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