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The Grass-Cutting Sword Paperback – 9 Aug 2006


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Paperback, 9 Aug 2006
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Amazon.com: 4 reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Disappointing. 17 July 2008
By frumiousb - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I absolutely loved The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden, so much so that I really wanted to read another Valente. I nearly picked the sequel to In the Night Garden right away, but instead decided to buy The Grass-cutting Sword. For one reason and another, it sat unread on my shelf for quite some time, but finally got around to it this year.

I was disappointed. (I nearly wrote "quite" disappointed, but I realize that this isn't terribly fair. The level of disappointment has more to do with my high expectations rather than the quality of the book.) In the Night Garden nearly put me off immediately with its overly precious language, but as I read on I found that Valente did such an amazing job of anchoring that baroque wordsmithing in reality that I found the whole effect utterly enchanting. I had a bit of the opposite feeling with The Grass Cutting Sword, unfortunately.

The book is a slim (re)telling of Japanese myth, focusing on the God of Wind and Storms who is cast out of heaven by his sister. While I found parts of it very interesting, mostly I found it too light to make the effort worthwhile. And, in the end, I found the writing pyrotechnics and shifting points of view annoying rather than enlightening.

In an interview at Fantasybookspot with Jay Tomio, Valente actually discusses why her earlier books are different than The Orphan's Tales. She says:

"Most of my previous books were intensely language-oriented character studies. I've been accused of passing off prose-poems as fiction, which just kind of shows how arbitrary those distinctions have become these days. They had plots, but they more or less followed the mental arc of their narrator, and the complexity of the novels was in the style, not the events. For all my discussion of style, I do believe that style and content are intertwined, and if I wanted to tell a story about a person losing their mind, the kind of hallucinogenic style I used was perfectly appropriate. But when I wanted to tell fairy tales, then a whole different set of expectations arose for both: a more oral style, a more concrete plot, more iconic and arresting and numerous characters. I was no longer dealing with a single narrator, nor a story that could be told with non-linear prose."

I realized upon reading this that I nearly completely disagree about her point of style and content being intertwined. When I first studied poetry, my original teacher called that point of view an "allusive fallacy". Chaotic writing is not the best way to write about chaos. Sentimental prose is not the best vehicle for conveying emotion. I found that the best prose that I have ever read about madness (The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, for example) is generally spare and quite stark.

What this tells me is that I am going to dislike her earlier work. The Orphan's Tales works for me because the fairy tale form lends her work enough of the concrete that everything hangs together. Unfortunately, in this book, the lack of an anchor makes the complicated writing nothing more than flash.

I'm sure that there are a lot of people out there who would really like the book, so don't let me dissuade you if this is your thing. Myself, I'm most likely going to pick up the next book in The Orphan's Tales and hope to recapture what I liked so much about the first.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Japanese myth-punk 1 Oct. 2006
By Craig L. Gidney - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This brief novel is a retelling of an old Japanese folktale. Susanoo-no-Mikoto, the god of wind and storms, has been banished from heaven by his sister the sun goddess Ama-Terasu for an admittedly horrible act of desecration. On earth, in his human form, he discovers that a dreadful, eight-headed serpent has been terrorizing the region, and has devoured the eight daughters of a humble peasant couple. He makes it his quest to destroy the serpent, in return for the marriage of the eighth daughter.

Valente lays the body of this ancient myth out on the marble slab of her imagination and performs surgery on it. Susanoo-no-Mikoto's first person narrative is fairly straight forward. His voice is arrogant, full of ribald humor that's undercut with a real longing for his mother. A subplot tells the story of the creation of the world, and how Susanoo-no-Mikoto's mother Izanami was transformed into the hellish root country. This is alternated with the view point of each of the maidens and the serpent that devours them. These short pieces in written in a lovely, stream-of-conscious style where Valente is at war with language. She refashions storytelling, revealing a feminist subtext of maiden-and-dragon stories while piling on the sheer horror (and beauty) of primeval folktales. The imagery is pyrotechnic. Bring a strong stomach.

The Grass-Cutting Sword shows Valente's growth as a writer--she really captures the swaggering, bravado voice of the storm god, and has a sense of masculine grieving. The banter between Susanoo-No-Mikoto and his sister Ama-Terasu is simply charming. The pacing is spot-on. The novel is a quick read, but lovers of the music of language will like to linger over her lovingly crafted prose.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Another winner from Valente 11 May 2007
By Robert Beveridge - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Catherynne M. Valente, The Grass-Cutting Sword (Prime, 2006)

Valente's inscription to me in the frontspiece of The Grass-Cutting Sword calls it "this small, forgotten book." If that's the case, it's a crime. Valente is one of the best American authors going today, and The Grass-Cutting Sword is another fine example of why.

Susanoo-no-Mikoto is the god of storms, cast out of heaven for a transgression of which we, at the beginning, know nothing. As he's getting used to his new mortal body, he is spied by a couple who ask him to kill the dragon who's taken their eight daughters. They believe the last one is still alive; after killing the dragon, Susanoo-no-Mikoto can have her as his wife. He takes the task on, but quickly finds out that the menace of the dragon is nothing compared to the blindness and stupidity of the human world, including (especially, perhaps) his own worshippers.

The story is told in alternating voices of the god, the dragon, and the daughters. As with all Valente's books, each voice is exquisitely crafted, each scene as beautiful and grotesque as a Joel-Peter Witkin photograph. It's impossible to go wrong with Valente. Pick this up. **** ½
9 of 29 people found the following review helpful
I am a philistine, obviously. 16 April 2007
By lumindanu - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is awful. No other word for it. I could not even bring myself to give it away to a friend. I left it, in the dead of night, on the steps of a used bookseller.

yes, I finished it. It has no redeeming characteristics.
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