Last year, L. Timmel Duchamp mentioned to me that she wanted to start a new forum for reviews. She was joined by Nisi Shawl, Kath Williams, and Lew Gilchrist, and the four of them have brought the project into reality as the Cascadia Subduction Zone.
The Cascadia Subduction Zone aims to bring reviews, criticism, interviews, intelligent essays, and flashes of creative artwork (visual and written) to a readership hungry for discussion of work by not only men but also women. Work by women continually receives short shrift in most review publications. And yet the majority of readers are women. Ron Hogan writes in an August 2010 post on Beatrice.com, “[Jennifer] Weiner and [Jodi] Picoult, among others, are giving us a valuable critique of a serious problem with the way the [New York] Times [Book Review]—and, frankly, most of the so-called literary establishment—treats contemporary fiction. Which is to say: They ignore most of it, and when it comes to the narrow bandwidth of literature they do cover, their performance is underwhelming, ‘not only meager but shockingly mediocre,’ as former LA Times Book Review director Steve Wasserman said three years ago. And it hasn’t gotten any better since then, leaving us with what Jennifer Weiner describes as “a disease that’s rotting the relationship between readers and reviewers.”
The relationship between readers and reviewers interests us. We want to bring attention to work critics largely ignore and offer a wider, less narrowly conceived view of the literary sphere. In short, we will review work that interests us, regardless of its genre or the gender of its author. We will blur the boundaries between critical analysis, review, poetry, fiction, and visual arts. And we will do our best to offer our readers a forum for discussion that takes the work of women as vital and central rather than marginal. What we see, what we talk about, and how we talk about it matters. Seeing, recognizing, and understanding is what makes the world we live in. And the world we live in is, itself, a sort of subduction zone writ large. Pretending that the literary world has not changed and is not changing is like telling oneself that Earth is a solid, eternally stable ball of rock.
For the first issue of the Cascadia Subduction Zone, I took a look at Kathe Koja’s striking and tangled new novel UNDER THE POPPY (Small Beer Press, November 2010).
The novel traces the events surrounding, and the lives touched by, Under the Poppy, a brothel that is also a theater. From my review:
The story has an epic quality, tempered by concentration on concrete details. Its late nineteenth century setting felt compellingly convincing—at times, it was like reading a book which had slanted slightly to the side, examining characters and events that would have been marginal to the original text…
Rich, intelligent descriptions, and a compelling cast makes Under the Poppy an intense, lingering experience. There are more quibbles I could make—at times the prose could have used sharpening, the villains read as flat, and I’m tired of sexual sadism symbolizing “bad person”—but part of the pleasure was that there was so much texture. Each section was a burst of images. I wanted to read it slowly as I might eat a rich meal—savoring each bite before taking another.