This is a collection of stories first published by And Other Stories in the U.K. and later published by Bloomsbury in the U.S.
The stories in this collection are full of outcasts, lonely people who linger on the fringes of society: a hunchback, an orphan, a mentally ill drunk and refugees. The characters, despite the fact that they occupy a small space in these brief narratives, demand an emotional and empathetic reaction from the reader.
The first page of the title story, “Black Vodka”, poignantly captures the feelings of someone who is bullied, made to feel like an outsider and a misfit for his entire life. The narrator, who has a hump on his back between his shoulder blades says, “I was instructed in the act of Not Belonging from a very tender age. Deformed. Different. Strange.” He is now a successful ad executive working on a campaign for Black Vodka. We cheer him on when a woman named Lisa, an archaeologist by trade, takes a keen interest in him and wants to “excavate” the eccentricities of his body in a way that does not degrade or humiliate him.
“Cave Girl” is an interesting commentary on personal identity and the fact that many people desire to be someone else, literally to be in someone else’s body. Cass declares to her brother that she wants a sex change. But she does not want to become a male, she wants to stay as a female but wants to become a different type of female. Cass wants to be “light-hearted” and “airy” and she also wants to change her physical features so that she has blue eyes. When Cass shows up looking and acting like a completely different person. Her brother and all of the males in the neighborhood fall over themselves to give her attention and shower her with gifts. But is Cass really better off as this seemly happy, yet shallow and “airy” new person who is always smiling but never has any real opinions?
It is amazing that so many issues, which as human beings we are forced to encounter every day, are raised in BLACK VODKA: relationship struggles, identity crises, loneliness, and isolation are all explored; I highly recommend this small yet thought-provoking book.
About The Author:
Deborah wrote and published her first novel BEAUTIFUL MUTANTS (Vintage), when she was 27 years old. The experience of not having to give her words to a director, actors and designer to interpret, was so exhilarating, she wrote a few more. These include, SWALLOWING GEOGRAPHY, THE UNLOVED (Vintage) and BILLY and GIRL (Bloomsbury). She has always written across a number of art forms (see Bookworks and Collaborations with visual artists) and was Fellow in Creative Arts at Trinity College, Cambridge from 1989-1991.
2 responses to “Review: Black Vodka by Deborah Levy”
This sounds like a very thought-provoking read and seems to get at the heart of what i want from diverse reading – to the perspective of people who are often marginalized and whose experiences are therefore ignored. From the two stories you describe, it also doesn’t sound depressing enough to scare me off, although I’m always wary of books about bullying. Books where bad things happen to children or animals are always the hardest reads for me.
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I don’t like books that feature abuse of children or animals of any kind either. I am too sensitive. But this collection was more uplifting I would say, especially the first story. Thanks for stopping by!
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