October 2004

Jessa Crispin

fiction

Trash Sex Magic by Jennifer Stevenson

It's not often you get characters like those that appear in Jennifer Stevenson's Trash Sex Magic. Even if you remove the oddities like the underground huts and the tree fucking, Stevenson presents men and women who feel entirely new to literature, and they're so good you have to wonder why they've been missing.

Raedawn and her mother Gelia live on the banks of the Fox River in a small, poor community. The novel opens with the huge, ancient tree in front of their trailer being torn down to make way for townhouse development. Rae takes this especially hard. "Rae clumped over the muddy ruts, lost for the first time in twenty-five years." It's slowly revealed that not only did Rae talk to the tree and consider him her friend, she refers to the tree as her lover. (Just how one would fuck a tree is not revealed until the end of the book, unfortunately.)

The land, manifested in Rae, begins to fight against the developers. The river begins to flood, but only on one side. Vines and roots take over the equipment. One of the workers on the site, Alexander Caebeau, becomes sympathetic to the occupiers' evictions, and he becomes weary from constantly destroying land and displacing the powerless in order to build more condos and townhouses. But once he becomes involved with Rae, he starts having trouble keeping his limbs in their original condition, waking up with his arms and legs ten feet long.

While the members of this tight-knit community seem to embrace the label of "trailer trash," Stevenson never turns them into caricature. This may not seem incredible, but if you think about it, it really is. What was the last book with main characters living in trailers below the poverty line who were not belittled or pitied by the author? Stevenson does not judge her characters, and that counts for a lot. Even the teenaged boy who had to escape the town is treated with understanding. It's rather sad that this is so unique, that this kind of character is not seen much in literature. Stevenson deserves respect for that.

But it's not that the book is perfect. It has its problems. Raedawn's use of sex to "heal" the men of the book feels too much like a stereotype of women in fantasy literature. The prose is solid, but the book does drag about midway through. Its originality more than makes up for these weaknesses. It's so refreshing to read a fantasy book that doesn't read like it bows down to Tolkien, a book with a message that doesn't sound preachy. Trash Sex Magic is Stevenson's first novel, and it will be exciting to see what she comes up with next.

Trash Sex Magic by Jennifer Stevenson
Small Beer Press
ISBN: 1931520127