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Review: The Salt Grows Heavy

4/5 stars

The Salt Grows Heavy, by Cassandra Khaw (2023)


A mermaid with no tongue, who's run away from her prince husband, leaving behind ravenous daughters with sharp teeth. An androgynous plague doctor - complete with long, pointy mask - with deep psychological and physical scars. A weird village filled with children who ritualistically kill each other, only to be brought back to life by three vampire-like surgeons the children refer to as "saints."


Truthfully I didn't always understand what was going on, but I was 100% along for the ride regardless. Khaw's writing, including the haunting, hallucinogenic-like characters and atmosphere she creates, is genuinely beautiful, at least to me. I can see how some might get frustrated with her verbosity... by that I mean that she seems to make ample use of the thesaurus. But I didn't find it distracting, and it didn't feel like posturing. I feel head-long into the lyricism, but I can definitely image that her version of poetic prose is not for everyone. A couple of samples:


We walk until the moon reaches its zenith, a cataracted eye glowering from the star-drowned sky. Then, at a clearing, a square of land jagged with old cairns and vacated graves, its denizens either cannibalized by the forest or changed by it, my travel mate declares: “We’ll stop here.”


The language of the deepwaterbasal, marrow-deep—does not require air, or tongue, or even lips to mold. But their indignance—inflected in the rueful bend of their mouth, the restless way they carve furrows through their hair, over and over in nervous repetition—extracts a smile from me. I’d missed the plague doctor, I realize. My husband hoarded my pregnancy, its moments and movements, the waxing of my womb an aching minuet, choreographed to his amusements, his ambitions. I was permitted no company save for what he’d curated, no conversation but his.


It's creepy, mysterious, and wholly entertaining.

 

UP NEXT: Self-Portrait with Nothing, by Aimee Pokwatka (2022)



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