My Whole Expanse I Cannot See…

I formulate infinity stored deep inside of me…

Mar 12


Category: Opinions

Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente tells the story of four lost and lonely travelers as they journey to a strange and beautiful city, a city that exists beyond the veil of dreams. Imagine a place of surreal delights, of bizarre masquerade balls and holy churches in which odd creatures worship in utter silence. This is Palimpsest, a city that is neither dream nor reality for those who stumble into its borders. Of course, to visit isn’t enough, never enough. Visitors long for residency, they desire to make Palimpsest their reality. Such desires, however, come at a cost.

For reasons we don’t early know, people exist in our world who bear marks on their skin, black tattoos that appear to be pieces of an otherworldly map. These people are gateways to Palimpsest, to enter involves sex and the heavy sleep after orgasm. Those who sleep after climax in our world wake to wander the streets of Palimpsest, the part of the map on their partner’s body, except in the case of first time visitors. First timers are required to visit a certain fortune-teller, a woman with the head of a frog. She sees clients only in groups of four, these four are then bound together, a family of sorts. Whenever in Palimpsest, no matter how far apart, these four strangers intimately share each other’s experiences. They taste the same tastes, they feel each other’s pleasure and pain. When morning comes to Palimpsest, visitors then wake in our world. New-comers also wake with a mark of their own, a new gateway to this gorgeous and sometimes cruel city. Permanent residence is elusive, but not impossible. The novel follows four characters who have lost something in our world and desperately hope to find it in Palimpsest.

Valente has created something absolutely brilliant in Palimpsest. Her decadent use of language brings so much life into a world that few have the skill to even imagine, let alone write into existence. To me, Palimpsest is an intricate metaphor for the nature of sex and relationships. Unlike any liquor, any drug, sex can take a person completely outside of their reality. In one sense, sex can be a hollow, empty act, a temporary escape from one’s broken life. Yet, in another sense, sex with the right person can be a perfect sacrament. Two people inside one another creating a world of their own. Sex doesn’t have to be about running away from something awful, it can be about moving toward something amazing. Sex with the right person can feel like going home after being caught in a terrible storm. Palimpsest explores these ideas with lush prose and haunting imagery. Cat Valente is definitely a singular talent at the top of her game.

Have you read Palimpsest? What did you take from it?


3 Comments so far

  1. josh March 12th, 2009 4:13 pm

    Sounds pretty interesting, but more importantly . . . does this mean you aquired some eyebrow switches?

  2. michael March 12th, 2009 6:23 pm

    josh: No, I actually spent 5 hours typing that.

  3. josh March 12th, 2009 9:48 pm

    You are the most dedicated person on the planet. If I was wearing a hat, it would currently be tipped in your direction.