Radical Transubstantiations: The Mutation of Fortune by Erica Adams

by on Aug.29, 2011

I have much enthusiasm for this book, and I think a lot of you will too.

The Mutation of Fortune is a collection of short tales narrated by an inquisitive, resilient young woman who experiences — and herself produces — a series of strange and fantastic encounters over the arc of the book. Many of these are violent, quite horrifying, and  wonderfully grotesque: in “The Only Rule,” the narrator tells us her sister “has something living inside that comes out only for me” — it has “hair and a big mouth that bites me on different parts of my body.” Other tales tell both of encounter and escape — “From the Throat” describes the narrator’s corporeal resistance to her parents’ pressure to marry:

I began to cough, and felt a thread issuing from my throat. I took hold of this thread with my hand and pulled from my throat the body I had. And as I pulled my old body from my throat I became a beast once more, and lived this way for the rest of my days.

Of course she doesn’t continue on as beast — by the next page, her body has been reset to that of a young woman — only to escape itself again. The availability of this beastly corporeality, of all the corporealities made possible in the book, is paramount. The tales swerve, as if becoming conscious of their own desires; as they do, it is through radical and proliferative embodiment that the narrator continually finds — and forges — lines of flight. As the book progresses, the narrator’s body expands and multiplies: devouring and incorporating other bodies, breeding new bodies. She forges pathways through extraction (“From the Throat”), through eating (“In a Pinch”), through being eaten (“Volatile,” “Swelling”), through cross-species encounters and becoming-animal (“How We Came to Be,” “The Speculum Showed a Salamander,” “The Egg,” “The Veil,” “Opening”), through sewing and other creative acts, as here, in “Opening” (in full):


Close to the universe you begin to see mouths in everything. Wide red lipped things with ivories to chock little boys back into bed. Instead of horror, I have found safety.

It became a game, counting the rows of teeth possible in a tiny trap. Some big molars, others sharp and exact. The mouths are never closed, always open. Always stretching wider.

Sharks do not have teeth anchored to the jaw. They are sunk into the flesh. If they lose one, they replace it in the next row. It is a conveyor belt. It is evolutionary.

To see a mouth in everything is sublime. It is encouraging. I sew mouths onto my gowns, as Queen Elizabeth had her velvets embroidered with eyes and ears. She was the sight and sound of her kingdom. I am the mouth to the world.

I am saving the milk teeth of the neighborhood children. I am their fairy, leaving behind small change. At night, I stitch them into the roof of my mouth. It is a chapel. I multiply.

"Mother of Tears" by Brother Brahmm (author photo)

The stories are marked with runes, and the key to these runes comes in the form of a bookmark. As Adams explains in her interview with Caroline Picard, these runes form an indexing system for the narrator’s inheritances:

CP: What about the runes on the side? Where did those come from and how did you go about categorizing the each story under that system?

EA: I was reading Maya Deren’s Divine Horsemen: Living Gods of Haiti and Jodorowsky’s Psychomagic, and both books are deeply concerned with spiritual inheritance– what we are passed down from our ancestors. This made a lot of sense to me, but I also wondered if a soul, a specific soul, could have its own inheritance that it carries from life to life. In all the protagonist’s lives she’s confronted with these situations that have a certain energy to them, archetypal principals. It felt like the tarot– tarot cards she was dealt and had to deal with, but could also change. And the title of the book speaks to that– The Mutation of Fortune. So I imagined she was given these 12 inheritances, or runes, to work with pre-birth. Which isn’t saying that she is bound by fortune or fate, just that she has this inheritance upon entering the world. And in each story, each life, she’s contending with these different archetypal principles. It seemed the book was inherently ordered by these archetypes, not by the typical story arc: exposition, climax, denouement. I wanted to explore that pattern of embodiment — because the stories are very much about having a body, being a body — outside of linear time.

I was also influenced by the concept of soul retrieval, where you journey (spiritually) to a trauma that caused your soul to split, fracture. You go back to that place and collect the piece or pieces you lost. I started thinking of the runes as guideposts on the journey back. I was also thinking about the movie Inception, and how Leonardo DiCaprio’s character has this little spinning top that he carries into the dream world with him. He knows he’s dreaming if he spins this top. So I went to each story and tried to find out what rune or runes could be the guideposts, reminders of the journey, and assigned them that way.

The stories collected here swarm with menace and magic; orchestrating this swarming is elegant, considered prose that beats as a heart. Published by Chicago’s Green Lantern Press, the book as object is as beautifully constructed: it includes a number of full-color collages by the author; and the cover is silkscreened by Chicago-based artist Aay Preston-Myint. Purchase it through Green Lantern or SPD.

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2 comments for this entry:
  1. Johannes

    This looks great, thanks for the review!

  2. More thoughts of The Mutation of Fortune from Montevidayo | The Lantern Daily

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