Science rarely seems so sensuous. In Literati interview subject Lauryn Allison Lewis’s novella, solo/down (CCLap Hypermodern Editions, 2012, 99 pages), Lewis uses her hypnotic twin gifts of alluring voice and near-perfect sentence structure to elucidate a world where genetic engineering ranges supreme. Where plants are mere smudged and brittle fascimilies of what they used to be. Where two scientists work, one in love with the other, the other in love with her work. Where twins born of these researchers’ respective love and experimental fervor are damaged. One festers while the other explores. Into this world comes a catalyst, a Solo, in Lewis’s words, “a grain of stardust, buried like a cosmic seed between one’s spirit and one’s mind.”
Having reviewed several short, short books, I can say with confidence the best ones immerse you so totally in their world and its working that the pages barely seem to be passing. Their scant number is neither disappointing or surprising. It is just the right amount of time for the story to take place, and nothing more needs to be explained. A good novella is the ideal reading experience, or like shoes that fit just right. While you might be curious about what happens after solo/down’s end, it is a clear end rather than a stopping point. My one criticism of the book is that things may accelerate too quickly at points, but it is a very, very minor feeling in an otherwise marvelous execution.
Lewis’s inspirations are so vivid and complex, it’s amazing she wasn’t tempted and bogged down by the curiosities of the biology that form several key features of solo/down’s world and characters. I also admire the lack of sympathy that marks the characterizations. One of the twins is an incredibly foul and unrelentingly evil creation—breathtakingly so, in fact. The female scientist, Amse, while emotional, is remote to her detriment, and her male research assistant, Jin, almost too emotional to understand the scope of the situation. The foils balance each other, but a writer who is willing to work such extremes and do it with skill is a brave and talented one.
Much like with poetry chapbooks, short prose seems to attract a better breed of construction and artistry when published. Handmade and put out by the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, the print edition of solo/down has a lovely binding and cover design. Yes, you can download the book for free, as I tried to while reviewing it. But I’m so glad the download didn’t work, as the presentation is worth it. If you can, buy a print edition for your favorite literary poetic scientist. If you can’t, pay some money for this slender, ethereally written yet oddly resilient novella. It’s worth it.
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