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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Review - "Coercion" by Lux Zakari

Prior to “Coercion”, the only work of Lux Zakari’s that I’d read was a short story. Appearing in Sommer Marsden’s Kinkyville anthology, “Desert” is a gritty slice of desolate realism that nonetheless has a core of pragmatic faith. It also displays a descriptive style of writing which has a graceful momentum about it, all of which made me keen to sample a great deal more of Ms. Zakari’s talents.

Indeed, “Coercion” is resplendent with many of the same qualities as “Desert”. The prose has cool impetus, moving the reader along, without dragging or urging, as if they’re part of the story, floating in a river of words.

Ms. Zakari is blessed with the ability to weave description effortlessly into her prose, keeping the flow of the writing smooth and tight. Even everyday moments are given weight by the addition of a tiny detail. The colour of the tiles, the consistency of the gravy. Without them the story would survive as a sketch. With them it blooms into a portrait.

And it’s not always the literal descriptions which boost the story. There is a wonderfully restrained quality to the instances of metaphor as well.

“She quickly averted her eyes to her book, but she continued to feel the weight of his gaze, her body warming in every place she imagined he was looking.”

The story itself is primarily a coming-of-age one, though this simple phrase means vastly different things for each character. Outwardly, it’s Valerie Mercer who makes the greatest transition, from a gloriously unspoiled girl to a deliciously seasoned young woman. Her journey is like the pulsing of a heart, or the pounding of an orgasm. Moments of overwhelming intensity. Weeks of emotional wasteland. Vast peaks and abyssal troughs, and all centred on Michael Vartanian.

Michael’s story makes a sharp counterpoint to Valerie’s. All that she lacks, he has; most notably confidence and experience. In Michael, Valerie sees strength. It takes her some time to realize that the strength she sees is little more than the reflection of her own weakness. In Valerie, Michael sees an outlet for his self-loathing. There is, indeed, a cyclical quality to their interactions. All that she has, he lacks.

Despite his poor treatment of women in general, and Valerie in particular, Michael comes across as a sympathetic character. There are viable reasons he won’t allow women to love him, but importantly, his reasons are never portrayed by Ms. Zakari as excuses. He’s behaving badly, and there’s no attempt at justification.

As the story progresses he pushes Valerie further and harder, always driving proceedings and exacting confirmation. “Do you like it?” or “Do you want me?” Ostensibly he’s just teasing, trying to draw slutty talk from an innocent mouth, but I always felt there was a sharp edge to it. I felt he was creating something purely so he could withhold or even destroy it in a fit of capriciousness.

Michael’s main problem, as a man, was that he needed to fight but had no concept of who his enemy was. He wasn’t even shadow-boxing. He was fighting the idea of a nemesis. He was lashing out at ghosts. He welcomes disdain and even provokes physical retribution, all without showing signs of growing. It’s only when Valerie shows him a form of love he’s never acknowledged – forgiveness – that he truly begins to make steps into adulthood.

On a side note, I strongly admired the handling of the scenes between Michael and his father. So little is expressed, yet complications and ramifications simply bristle off the page. I avidly re-read those sections purely because they worked so well.

I found “Coercion” to be a very well-written novel, even more remarkably so because it’s Ms. Zakari’s first. The only minor quibble I might have had was that the sense of smell made very little appearance throughout the first half of the story. However, this situation was rectified by the end, and in fact the introduction of scents allowed the story to broaden its scope as it developed.

This one’s a keeper. The same goes for Ms. Zakari. Watch out for more of her work. I know I will be.

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