April 2008

Angela Stubbs


The Meat and Spirit Plan by Selah Saterstrom

Selah Saterstom’s latest work, The Meat and Spirit Plan, gives new meaning to the word dysfunction. The title isn’t the most alluring thing about this book; in fact each page the eye digests keeps the reader hungry for more. Here the prose emerges from an alphabet soup of the author’s choice. It’s what Saterstrom does best. Stories that are good must be told and this one tells its way right into your subconscious and stays there until you fall asleep, haunting you with words and images -- people you can’t forget. Quirky characters and visual stimuli aren’t all that lurk in these 240 pages. The poetry here finds its own voice through the straightforward style that pours out of Saterstrom.

Picking up where the Pink Institution left off, The Meat and Spirit Plan is set in the south where many of the same curses are still in full force. In Beau Repose, it’s tough to keep the adolescents occupied with anything but drugs, sex and rock and roll when there’s nothing to do but have sex, do drugs and listen to rock and roll. Our main character endures all the typical trials and tribulations of being a teenager, and then some. After being on a physical and emotional rollercoaster for the majority of our narrator’s young life, she rebounds from traumatic events (rape, miscarriage, drug addiction, and illness). Being raised without a real mother or a father, the main character looks to her sister for direction on how to live her life and to men and women for solace and security. As we jump from reform school to grad school our character really gets the opportunity to blossom into something bigger and better than a dead-beat southern girl who’s made a number of bad decisions.

The town of Beau Repose is a place that molds our narrator into who she’ll become in her later years as she runs through adolescence, doing everything her sister does, rebelling against everything in her way and realizing that she’s bound to repeat her mother’s past. While moving away helps the narrator gain distance from her drug-addicted mother, the influence of her sister, her past and poor choices, she remains the same person with equal baggage as an adult, only with a sense of humor. And somewhere in the midst of reform school, she finds a desire to pursue higher education.

As the narrator journeys abroad to study religion and postmodern studies at the Postmodern Seminar for the Study of Interpretative Uses, our character meets up with Ian (heroin-user) and Ruth, both of whom she spends her time sleeping with and eating bad food with while attending school. Life was bleak back in the south and here, Scotland’s landscape doesn’t present a brighter mood for our main character. Setting aside, Saterstrom can entertain the reader with dry humor while intoxicating us with her subtle style, her brand of prose, if you will. She’s the kind of writer whose lack of punctuation and fragmentation of sentences keeps us in tune with the character’s mood. The lack of pretension and the movement of words here remind us of the melancholy of the life the narrator continues to lead. The plot is not replete with twists or turns -- it’s the choice of words and emphasis on syntax that makes this work refreshing. Detail is what the author does best. Whether it’s describing the insertion of a tampon, the reader always has mental images that innocent tongues cannot replicate. “At the onset of pain before bread followed by Pepto then puke, I insert a tampon. The cotton batting absorbs the lower sonar frequencies of refraction which illuminate the blackened interior in bright hair-thin constellations.”

The Meat and Spirit Plan doesn’t try to be funny or deep, but by wit alone manages to be both of those things. Our narrator muses at one point in the book “If he (Tolstoy) were a car, he’d be a Cadillac” and contemplates the purpose of bicycle-eating man

Think of it, eating an entire bicycle. A Schwinn Shimano 3-speed with a Stingray Gripper Slik back, an iridescent blue aluminum frame, liner-pull pedals, brakes perched like doves in the crook of curved handlebars, vinyl grip-taped. Some parts of the bicycle could be swallowed as plunking a penny in a well. But others like the chain wheel would have to be let. Lowered through upward rippling esophagus, sprockets snatching linings, eviscerating the passages, until cavities jam, then fist knocked, in. Other parts like the alloy kickstand would require the entire body for acceptance, a slow-motion robot dance He didn’t eat it all at once. That would be crazy. He ate through time. . . Did he eat a bicycle so we wouldn’t have to? Maybe God sent a man who eats bicycles. He was probably mentally ill but is mental illness a disqualifier in the realm of men sent from God? We don’t know that it is.

Salvador Plascencia writes about El Monte and how real the surreal is becomes in his work, The People of Paper, all with a solid eye for style and experimental prose. Saterstrom’s narrator manages to do some of the same while blurring what may be reality or daydreams at different moments throughout this story. Sometimes the daydreams seems to be reality and reality is, usually an ugly reality but we the reader are left to ponder, much as the main character ponders about things abstract and real.

Selah Saterstrom has written a literary work that deserves the same amount of attention that she gives to each word on the page. Here we see what it’s like to disconnect with reality in order to connect with our imagined realities. It’s important to expose human frailties and the way we chose, as individuals, to cope with our fractured pasts while addressing the here and now. The Meat and Spirit Plan is a book that does exactly that.

The Meat and Spirit Plan by Selah Saterstrom
Coffee House Press
ISBN: 978-1-56689-201-8
240 pages