Delighted to share this brand-new review of UNDER THE POPPY from Rising Shadow, and to take pleasure in the reviewer’s pleasure in les mecs:
“One of the best and most intriguing things about Under the Poppy is that the author writes impressively about Istvan’s puppets. Istvan has a special connection with his puppets, because he seems to think about them first and then about people. It was fascinating . . . These puppets almost steal the whole show.”
As puppets will, given half of half a chance. Thank you much, Rising Shadow, for your visit to the brothel!
Herewith the third and final preview of Megan Weber‘s MERCURY WALTZ Tarot, most fittingly the Puppet, that ur-figure who attends, directs, and sometimes brings to motion the action both onstage and off. As Kenneth Gross reminds us, in his excellent PUPPET: AN ESSAY ON UNCANNY LIFE, “‘Motion,’ it’s worth recaling, was the sixteenth-century English word for a puppet show, sometimes for the puppet itself.”
In the novel’s opening scene, we see this demonstrated, a shadow cast for a larger performance to come:
The fox’s hide fits the puppet like a second skin, stitched velvet fur a russet gleam beneath the lights themselves masked into stars, the little theatre stage now become the wide dark world: though a sparsely-populated one, not even a dozen seats sold on this, the show’s last night. Beneath peaked ears the foxy man is smiling as, seeming to follow, he feints, he beckons, he leads the outfoxed king deeper down the pale chalked road into the heart of the empty forest.
A second Megan Weber creation, a second rumination from THE MERCURY WALTZ on the cards as avenues – and avatars – of Chance:
“. . . now the spread is almost complete, for these [two] bring the necessary tension to the table, as expert gamblers always do, and seed chaos, as Taroc always requires; for without chance, what chance is there of any real truth or its telling?”
Control is a myth and a folly, as we must learn and relearn; chance is the only constant, and the change that rides its wake. Turn the card, feel the wheel of fortune move beneath you like the turning world. Wait for the wink that speeds you onward, into the hands of the gods.
Cards figure very prominently in the landscape of THE MERCURY WALTZ: they’re the doorways of chance and divination, they can be foxed or fled or wholly misunderstood, but never are they wrong.
So when it was time to create the book’s trailer, it was clear that cards would be paramount in its design.
Ann Arbor-based artist Megan Weber has a bold and iconic style that spoke easily and at once to the project’s sensibility, its deep romanticism and its sense of play. And when she and I met, and I saw her recently-designed Animal Tarot, it was clear there was already a meeting of minds in place. The collaborative design process was almost absurdly unfraught: we talked, she sketched, she conquered.
Herewith, Megan’s design that speaks directly to, and of, the story’s heart: the strut and the buttons, the wink of a step that – aided by the silvery flash of a wing – sends the stepper right where he needs to go: whether that destination is a gambling parlor, the grey halls of power, or a lover’s bed, all depends on the next card to fall.
“Vera’s packed her traps,” Lucy says, to everyone and no one. “She’s on her way up the road tonight.” Their startled murmurs, Jonathan’s wide eyes and “The last train,” Lucy says. “Bought her ticket with that money she squirrels away, you note she’d never the price of a ribbon or a cigarette, always promising to pay you back later. Well, she’s paying us back all right. Off she goes, to Victoria she says, and thence to Paris. Paris! She might as well fly up to the moon.”
Readers of The Mercury Waltz will not learn if Vera ever made it to Paris, as her story-thread disappeared from the tale mid-point through the Poppy; and we are most concerned with those gentlemen of the road, Rupert and Istvan, where they went and what they did, what new allies or enemies they gathered in the city where they find themselves making a home, this time for good.
But no character is “just” a character, they’re all intrinsic to the story, otherwise why were they found there at all? Why this floozy, this sharp-eyed, acquisitive, self-protective Vera, sister to watchful Velma, if she did not belong at the Poppy, however briefly? To follow those threads, all of them, what fun it would be . . . I like to think that Vera made it to Paris, and made a lot of wealthy gentlemen less wealthy, if incrementally more wise.
[Photo of Vanessa Ellen Hentschel courtesy Rick Lieder.]
Now Decca paces as Rupert used to … Though how long has it been since she smelled the midnight smoke from his room? that he now so rarely uses, preferring Istvan’s quarters: at times they can be heard right through the walls, so reckless is their pleasure; everyone knows now, everyone. Even the soldiers, who snigger … though none will dare to do it to his face, or to Istvan’s either. On his own, each is formidable; together they are feared.
From Under the Poppy, as the lovers are reunited . . . Why do we think that suffering’s the road to success, no pain no gain? Pleasure’s what makes us stronger. And joy makes us invincible.
[Photo of Jonathan West courtesy Rick Lieder.]
Many thanks to patron Fred Tovich for these brothel glimpses!