Carved Into the Heart: A Review of Black Cloud

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Black Cloud
Juliet Escoria
Civil Coping Mechanisms, April 2014

My one great fear for Juliet Escoria’s debut collection upon its release is that a great many people, mostly males, will pick it up, see the attractive girl on the front cover, maybe read the first couple of stories, flip through the rest of the book and look at the pictures (yes there are pictures), get somewhat aroused by the descriptions of drug use and sexuality (and the pictures) so blatantly—misguidedly—tagged to the idea of modern masculinity and machismo culture, and then use the book as a source of philosophical retort while in conversation with a few ‘feminist looking hipster’ girls at their local haunt—using the opportunity to describe Juliet as the ‘female equivalent to Bukowski’. I fear this because those of us in the trenches of the indie-lit community, and more specifically women, know far too well how often this sort of thing actually happens, and how sad it is; not just sad for those that employ the technique, but mostly for the writers who have obviously put a lot of time, effort, and more importantly, have been gracious enough to put themselves into a work of art.

This has nothing to do with feminism (or maybe it does, I don’t know,) and everything to do with the writer, the artist. Although I can’t say with certainty what parts of this book are directly taken from the real ‘Juliet Escoria’s’ feelings/experiences (and would not dare ask), it’s easy to see that those parts are there, not only in the deft use of language, but in the level of emotion inherent in every line, in nearly every word, beneath which there are secrets, things left obscured, brimming like the smell coming off decaying corpses under loose floorboards.

“…Our words were half-hearted and blanched.”

For a work by an artist seemingly so concerned with the words she uses to describe each scene—like poetry—it feels odd to say that the dialogue spoken between characters are the least important words in the book, not for us the reader, but for the character’s themselves, for they have such little value or come with such doubt or are only spoken internally that they all come up as empty promises or blatant lies.

What counts is what’s on the inside, what’s inside the heart of hearts so to speak, whether that’s nothing at all or too much for any one person to bear, it’s left up to the narrator and reader to know what’s really going on, as if the two were in a conversation, a tete-a-tete a la confession, only the narrator (who seems to be the same unnamed narrator running throughout the collection) is not asking for absolution, she only wishes to tell you who she is and what transpired, more akin to someone writing their thoughts in a diary… her empathy comes with the understanding that what hidden in the dark is something we all harbor, no matter if it’s tied to addictions or self-harm, no: the biggest thing that we’re all so afraid to admit is that there is an unquantifiable weight, something to do with death and something to do with knowing you’re alive but at the same time not knowing what the fuck you’re supposed to be doing or if there’s any real point and if there’s anything that is ‘real’, not just touchable or perceivable but something that can make you feel someway other than bad or worse or indifferent toward everything that does exist, including other people, even the ones you really do love or want to, anyway.

It’s the black cloud that follows us all, seems to sit on our chests and crush our ribs into our hearts, slowly, or else float above us, buoyant and unassuming before raining down and drowning us in its flood.

Black Cloud is about appearances and the reality that lies beneath those appearances, like roses that go down with the coffin. Everything in these stories, any beauty, is something that the narrator and the reader alike know will wither and die just as the body in the coffin has died and withered. Nothing lasts, not the high of any drug—including that often intoxicating but un/misdirected chemical reaction we call ‘love’, and especially feelings you second guess from the moment you think you might actually really have them, including quick glimpses into the spiritual…

“I see a cobalt blue ball hovering in the air, and it glows with something that might be love. I tell myself it is not the mania, it is not the kava, it is the truth and it is real.” 

As someone who has experienced drug-induced psychoses and spent several weeks in psychiatric facilities under care of ambivalent nurses and skeptical doctors—mixing prescription-concoctions and feeding me pop-psychology—the one thing I know with certainty is that the ‘realest’ moments I felt were the ones I felt outside myself, where I had no rational explanation as to what was occurring or why. There is no way to have these things make sense (friends and family often think I’m lying when I try and talk to them about it); in the end there were the other patients, human beings going through similar things in one way or another.

Drugs only intensify or dilute our experience of stimuli/our emotional responses to those stimuli anyway, that’s why we seek them out in the first place, so why is it so hard to believe there is some truth in the things that happen while we’re on them, even if it’s just the seed of an emotion, something we thought had been buried but has burrowed its way to the surface?

If I myself have have misread this entire book and am completely wrong in my observations it all hinges on a short dream sequence, in “Here Is a Ghost Story”: the narrator is visited by the ghost of her current boyfriend’s former lover, who asks the narrator what she is so afraid of. 

“Everything,” I wanted to say, “It’s everything in this world that scares me,” but I knew that sounded dumb. 

Except she was a ghost, so I only needed to say the words in my head. Eliza laughed, all metallic and light. “That’s funny,” she said. “He’s afraid of everything too.”

 

 

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About Author

Mark Cronin is the author of the short story collection, Gigantic Failures, which has received favorable reviews on The Small Press Book Review, This Blog Will Change Your Life, and HTMLgiant. He is one half of Small Victories Press. His work has appeared in BE ABOUT IT and on Vol. 1 Brooklyn. He currently lives in Cleveland, Ohio.

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