Pirate Talk or Mermalade
151pp. Dzanc Books.
Reading unpublished novels for a living is not nearly as dreary as a great many other jobs we have had, don't get us wrong. But it does teach one rather quickly that most people are not particularly inventive when it comes to their literary efforts (sorry! it's true! don't shoot the messenger!). As a result, we have acquired a certain kind of cantankerousness (in addition to our formidable natural resources of this sentiment) when it comes to reading fiction recreationally: no risk on the first page? Nothing new in these sentences? OUT THE GODDAMN WINDOW. Even The Great Literary Novels of Our Time often seem--well, sort of boring, to be honest. Well-constructed, sometimes lovely, beautiful in their sentences, and about as much fun as an architects' cocktail party.
So! it is always quite delightful for us to happen upon a novel that is attempting something new. Terese Svoboda has built up a critically acclaimed and quite diverse body of work over the years, and Pirate Talk or Mermalade is the most recent addition. It's a bold move indeed: a novel about aspiring sibling pirates told entirely through dialogue. Life on the high seas isn't all it's cracked up to be; the brothers' career encompasses mutiny, dismemberment, marooning, a fickle mermaid who may or may not be their half-sister, and a persistent parrot whose repertoire consists solely of the word "hanged." From the equator to the Arctic, the hapless pirates pursue ever-more elusive fame and fortune.
Pirate Talk is an oddball little gem, a free exercise in language and form that doesn't succumb to the pretentiousness or obtuseness of a lot of experimental fiction. Though it's hard to follow in places, its freshness and sly humor make the effort worthwhile. In these Dark and Uncertain Times of Literature, it's a treat indeed to see writers taking real risks with their work, and small presses putting out the often rewarding results.
Here's a great interview with Terese Svoboda (she's interviewing herself, actually) if you would like to read more about her.