Fiction, Science Fiction

Novel: Maul by Tricia Sullivan

March 27, 2010

Late in Tricia Sullivan’s Maul (2003), there’s a sentence that perfectly encapsulates my experience reading the book:  “I’m looking for the seam where reality changes to some kind of code.”  Indeed, reading this text feels a little like deciphering a hidden message, even as its component elements hammer away like artillery.  Maul is a challenging, fierce, relentless novel, structured in a way that suggests a neat answer is in the offing…and there is, kind of, if not in the most expected way.

The book alternates between two story tracks.  One involves an edgy teenager named Sun Katz, whose joyride to a New Jersey shopping center with some friends explodes into a madhouse of ultraviolence.  The other involves a man named Meniscus, a human labrat being used to breed strange viruses in a secret laboratory, in a future where men have been rendered systemically obsolete.  Sun’s death-defying adventures in consumerist America are somehow connected with the frank sexual politics and bizarre science experiments of Meniscus’ hermetically sealed habitat – but how?

This is the question I was asking myself throughout the book, and I’m still pretty unclear about how it all ties together, at least on its surface, science fictional level – and frankly, I’m still feeling a little dense about that.  But the thematic connections are clear, and very interesting.  Maul is a book that raises intriguing questions about power and control, particularly in regards to gender issues, and uses blazingly vivid prose and well deployed SFnal tools to do so.  Propelling the book is a wild, raw writing style infused with fierce attitude.  It’s a graphically violent, sexually explicit, and unforgivingly profane book, choices that occasionally make it difficult to see the forest for the trees, but that also lend the book considerable transgressive power.

At times, I found the non-stop action narrative difficult-going — this kind of aggressive writing style tends to work better for me at shorter lengths, I think — but by and large I found it a compellingly unflinching book.  It’s a novel that confronts systems, head on — its own fictional world’s, and ours — and it’s hard not to respect for the verve and honesty with which it does so.

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  • Steven Klotz March 29, 2010 at 7:54 am

    I read a blurb about this book shortly after I first started by Locus subscription. I actually had to order it on amazon.co.uk at the time. I absolutely loved it. I don’t exactly remember why, although the surreal connections between the to story lines was key to my fascination. Looking back and wishing I’d written something down about this book ( and a handful of others ) was my inspiration for starting my book review blog. The single most important reason I review what I read is to remember why I like it.

    Anyway, on the basis of reading Maul I pulled together a complete collection of Sullivan’s novels. So far I’ve gone back and read her first novel, Lethe, which I’ve oddly forgotten to review. I’ll consider this a reminder and get that posted.

    What put Maul onto your reading list?

  • Chris March 29, 2010 at 9:44 am

    I actually just plucked Maul off the shelf…it looked like futurismic SF to me. I do vaguely recall you recommending it, too, or maybe just the author.

    I love this: “The single most important reason I review what I read is to remember why I like it.” I can so relate to this — my blog is totally a memory-trigger.