Saturday, March 06, 2010

Impossible Princess by Kevin Killian

Impossible Princess
Kevin Killian

Published by City Lights

Reviewed by Colin Herd


‘What portion of one’s personality is a fiction?’ So asked San Francisco-based writer Kevin Killian in his contribution to Biting the Error, the crucial and exciting anthology on narrative that came out in 2004, edited by Mary Burger, Robert Glück, Camille Roy and Gail Scott. It’s a question that swims through Killian’s most recent book of fiction, the collection of short stories Impossible Princess, published by City Lights very late last year. It swims through, dives in, submerges itself, reemerges and winsomely skinny-dips in the at times murky, at turns sparkling ponds of Killian’s energetic, muscular, sassy, exquisite prose. Forgive me getting carried away: I really fell in love with this book.

And it’s very easy to do. There are ten stories in Impossible Princess, each one a tight weave of theatricality and “reveal”, stagey acting out of fantasies and creeping self-realizations; in other words: fiction and personality. Killian’s characters often don a tight-robe, seamlessly acting at the surface but revealing conflicted psychologies below. Take Chris, from ‘Too Far’, which is set (believe it or not) in County Durham and co-authored by Thom Wolf. Chris is a near-forgotten former manufactured-pop-star who has reinvented himself as a credible DJ (Kris) and lives in fear of being recognized as a teen idol. In the process of his transformation we are told he has spent ‘years in the gym… looking for what he calls solid definition’. Or take the story ‘Rochester’ coauthored with Tony Leuzzi, in which characters Kevin and Tony hilariously perform a mentor-pupil relationship involving applesauce while a chimpanzee with the ability to predict the future composes Kevin’s celebrated books on a typewriter in the next room.

At the core of the book (well it’s the sixth of ten stories), ‘Dietmar Lutz Mon Amour’ is more personal and revealing, in spite of its flouncy and glamorous title. It’s a very beautiful love story in fact, told in large part through conversations between a writer, Kevin Killian, and an artist, Dietmar Lutz during the latter’s time in California. At times, Killian’s prose is searing in its honesty like the California sun, or soaring in it’s self-knowledge like the paper airplanes Kevin and Dietmar float into Anton LaVey’s locked up estate:

‘I realized I could go on lying to Dietmar Lutz- or were they lies? They were kind of the truth!- and enchant him for a while, by identifying his pleasure centers and manipulating them across the chasm of cultural difference that made us one man here driving, the other man there, filming our approach to the Black House of Anton LaVey. Thus love gives savor to the lie, injects flavor into the apple’s core.’

The sort of home-turf cultural imperialism that Kevin self-consciously explores here is made more poignant because Dietmar and Kevin’s love story is played out alongside reports and conversations about Mark Bingham, one of the passengers (and heroes) of Flight 93. It suggests a darker more threatening edge between fiction and personality, an edge that is expertly sharpened in the final story in the collection: ‘Greensleeves’, in which a married man tortures his wife’s colleague past breaking point by including his brother in their dom/sub relationship. At the seam between fiction and personality are territorialism, violence and possession.

I’ve always loved that famous photo of Marilyn Monroe reading (and near the end of) Ulysses, while sitting on a climbing frame. It’s definitely got something of the reveal and the staged about it. This book amply shows that the world (and Kevin Killian) deserves a snap of Kylie Minogue in a similar pose, reading (and near the end of) Impossible Princess.


Colin Herd is a poet based in Edinburgh whose work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in 3:AM, Dogmatika, Gutter, Shampoo, Velvet Mafia and Mirage #4/Period(ical).

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