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Weblit, in every sense of the term

By Eli James, editor

Aug 30, 2010: "Listen, sugar, some things never change. Once a nigger lover, always a nigger lover. Only now they call them augers."

I have put off writing this review for the longest time. I finished Corvus at the tail end of 2009, and then had a few conversations with Lee, its author, not too long afterwards.

"What did you set out to do?" I asked.

Lee quibbled. She doesn’t believe in talking about her work, especially not when the author may get in the way of the reading experience. And perhaps she’s right.

Corvus is, for the most part, several intersecting stories folded up into one. Part of it takes place in a snowy dreamscape, a place that is virtual and computer-controlled, but is implied to be something more. The other bit takes place in the real world, flitting back and forth between events that happened (or are happening) to the main characters. The stories run concurrently in the text, but you’re never really sure if the time is linear. Perhaps the events are circular, or perhaps what happens in the dreamscape never really happened at all.

I’ve reread Corvus twice in the time that I’ve delayed writing this review – and I still don’t understand the meaning behind the intertwining narratives. Perhaps I don’t dare to make an interpretation. Perhaps I am not a good enough reader.

At its heart, Corvus is a love story. There are two kinds of humans in its world: the Homo Sapiens, and the Homo Cognoscens. The latter, called the augurs, are genetically modified human beings designed for very specific, cognitive tasks. I believe they’re employed to help ‘correct’ wayward juveniles (through aforementioned virtual world) but why this is important and why they’re so expensive and valuable is unclear to me.

Laura, a human, falls in love with Zach, an augur. Lee is masterful in describing their growing attraction to each other. The two quickly become real people in the pages of her book. Their story is beautiful, marked by quiet longing, and small gestures of tenderness. And in the wintry dreamscape Zach hunts for Laura, stumbling in the cold with only her necklace as his guide. He misses her, searches for her, wants her. The novel throbs with his pain.

If the distance between Laura and Zach form the emotional core of the novel, then there are other bits that don’t quite fit in, but make you fear for their lives. Fulgur is the corporation that owns the augurs, and Laura’s family is quickly drawn into the mess that begins with Zach’s winter foray. Something is horribly wrong with the way the augurs are used. Zach is only at the tip of it.

The novel sings with tension, between all these interconnected stories, and then it leads to an abrupt, if unfathomable ending.

Lee told me, back then, that she wanted to explore the nature of human consciousness through Corvus. I have spent much of this review speaking of the events in the book, of the forbidden love that is written with such beauty so as to make the writer in me envious; of the trepidation that builds in the second act, leading to its climax. I can certainly recommend Corvus on the basis of that tension, the depth of its characters, and the power of its prose, consistent and beautiful as it is throughout the novel.

But the literary core at the heart of Corvus I cannot get at. It is there, I see flashes of it, but I don’t understand. Perhaps Lee wants it that way. Corvus is a reflection of the human consciousness. It forces you to read yourself into the story. It challenges the reader with its ambition as much as it does its writer.

As one of the few weblit (and I mean this in every sense of the term!) pieces out there, Corvus is a work of art. Whether it is a good one: time (and repeated rereadings) will tell. Till then, 4 stars.

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