Gritty journal-style novel proves creepy and compelling
One way or another, Cowslip, by Kirk Sigurdson, will affect you. You might feel unsettled, you might feel uplifted, you might become a vegetarian - all are possible responses to this powerful literary cocktail.
The setting is Portland, Oregon, where we peek behind the scenes of the music industry as Julia Fleischer makes a name for herself. She's hot, dynamic, and has a voice that starts a bidding war among record labels.
She also has only a few months to live.
Julia is a victim of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), a fatal brain disorder related to mad cow disease. It's a short stay on death row, and causes rapid, progressive dementia and neuromuscular disturbances.
In Julia's case, it causes terrifying hallucinations of demons and shadow people who observe her every move. We watch as her brain decays, as the hallucinations become more real. But are they really hallucinations? In Julia's reality, she is communicating with supernatural beings - demons and later, angels, from the great beyond.
What makes Julia's version of reality so compelling is the way the story is told. Almost the entire book takes the form of journal entries, so the reader gets the impression that Julia is speaking directly to them. It's conversational, natural, and highly personal.
Sigurdson has no problem writing in the voice of a 22-year-old female music star. She sounds exactly as she should, telling all the gritty details of wild LA parties, hard drugs, sex, whacked-out musicians, and a secret sexual longing for her best friend Ruth.
All the while, the CJD is perforating her brainmeats. But Julia is determined to live intensely and fully, despite her collapses and increasingly frequent encounters with the darkness and light beyond the grave.
Aside from the compelling format, plenty of clues point the reader towards believing Julia's version of reality. She records encounters with apparitions of people she knows, for example, then finds out that they have just died. More subtle clues are embedded in the shadow creatures' language. I did a quick Internet search for one of the words, and came up with one hit: Charms and conjurations of Hungarian Gypsy magic. The word meant "shadow." (If these were simply hallucinations, she would only hear words she understands, or nonsense.)
Sigurdson does an expert job of suspending our disbelief and seriously creeping us out. Ultimately, it's a love story, but with a backdrop of hard-driving, cranked-up-to-11 music; afloat in gin and champagne; tripping on smack; fucking whoever; and always, always the shadow creatures just under the surface.
You can check out a pdf sample of Cowslip, order the paperback, or get the e-book version (only $8) by visiting the publisher's website.
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