Our Ecstatic Days by Steve Erickson – a review

Alright, I want to admit, right out front, that I don’t entirely get this novel. But I enjoyed it. So I want to get it and I am hoping that talking it out in this blog will sort of help me get it.  First, some advice: don’t wade into this thing without a notebook and a pen to keep track of everyone and everywhen. People, places and times twist, turn and overlap in such a way as to make the novel wholly confusing if, like me, you just decide to wade in and get through it because it’s due back at the library in two days.There’s:

Kristin, who is the mother of a child named numerous variations of Cale.

Cale/Kale/Cabbage (alright, I made that last one up), who is Kristin’s son and appears throughout the novel, aging appropriately for whenever anything is taking place.

Lulu Blu: a dominatrix alter ego of Kristin’s on the other side of a lake that, seemingly overnight, springs up and drowns a good chunk of LA

Bronte: an unborn/born twin sister to Cale/Kale/Collared Greens that becomes an odd non-lover/child of Lulu Blu on one side of the lake before maybe falling into a similar role with Kristin, somehow back…on the same side of the lake?

Wang – a Chinese dissident who stared down tanks in Tienanmen Square (yes, THAT Chinese dissident) and who came to the US, had an unrequited love affair with yet another Kristin who is remarkably similar to the lead character Kristin but isn’t, is part of some sort of resistance or insurgency in a war that appears to take place in the western United States in the near future, and who is  a submissive to Lulu.

Lake Zed: oh, yeah, this big lake that buries LA and appears to have some sort of bizarre birth canal at the bottom that allows Kristin to travel back and forth between a world where she left her kid alone in a boat only to have him carried off and raised by owls, and another world where he, well, wasn’t.

While reading the novel, it’s impossible to miss the motherliness/birth imagery because it’s on every other page. And at least two or three times, we have characters literally being birthed in some form. Menstruation is mentioned often. There’s a healer who listens and diagnoses the ailments of buildings. There’s a lot of comforting and talk of motherly sacrifice that might be just as much selfishness as selflessness.

I want to say something more concrete about this work. I enjoyed reading it. It feels as if the whole motherhood thing can be mined endlessly (have I mentioned a near orgiastic scene where a group of women are seemingly overcome by the opportunity to beat and whip a group of men handcuffed to the wall)(and one of these men coming back to Bronte for more of the same later on?), but I’m fairly certain I still don’t have a solid enough grasp of the material to go into that sort of thing. Needless to say, it is a very mother-centric work, a very woman-centric work, that offers a view of existence remarkably different from what we normally receive, especially from a novel that could be accurately described as post-apocalyptic.

In th end, I think this is just something you have to experience for yourself and find out if you like it. I enjoyed it and I’m going to think about it some more and try to tease a bit more out of it before I haul it back to the library. I’ll let everyone know how I do.

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