Eileen R. Tabios’ Silk Egg: Collected Novels (Shearsman, 2011)

Eileen Tabios’ latest book Silk Egg is a Wunderkammer — in fact, a series of Wunderkammers — curated with the eccentric intelligence and playfulness of a Gertrude Stein (think of the “Objects” section of Tender Buttons).  Framed as a collection of novels, the book presents twelve prose poems, each of which is divided into seven short chapters.  Some of the chapters — each one isolated on a page of its own — are as short as a single sentence, and in their fragmented state, give off a startling radiance:

Chapter II

         She wished the lightning flash didn’t reveal his eyes.

Like Wunderkammers, Tabios’ text is filled with a wondrous array of surprising objects (a chandelier of gold antlers, a wet diamond on a red velvet petal, a shirt woven from hummingbird wings); it is filled with numerous textures (coral suede, white taffeta, the velvety flesh of a dog’s ear, handkerchiefs embossed with black-and-white photographs) as well as lustres (a pewter sea, mahogany inlay, glass panes veined with gold).  It is also filled — importantly — with lusters, with desiring subjects and bodies.  One of her characters says, “Realism…can suddenly become synonym for Desire.”  Another says (with metaphorical frisson): “His cock was midnight.”  This is all to say that Silk Egg is a book that revels in the senses and intoxicates the reader with both its sensuous language and its teasing swerves toward and away from a linear narrative.

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