Wednesday, April 11, 2012

OF LAMB by Matthea Harvey & Amy Jean Porter

McSweeney's Books, 2011. Packed with wit, dark humor, and twisted pathos, Of Lamb is a collaboration between Matthea Harvey and Amy Jean Porter combining Harvey's erasure of A Portrait of Charles Lamb by David Cecil with Porter's stunning, often slightly disturbing illustrations that creates a contemporary re-telling of the relationship between Mary and her Lamb. With the outward appearance of a children's book and a story within that follows Mary and Lamb's relationship from naive sexual encounter to Lamb's uncomfortable realization of self to the emotional and psychological disintegration of both lovers, Of Lamb beautifully juxtaposes Porter's bright, inviting, thoroughly weird illustrations (like, are those Lamb's genitals?) with Harvey's lines, a mixture of child-like declarative sentences ("Lamb lived in the background") and the slightly antiquated diction of Cecil's original text ("He moved among the rouged illusions of dawn"). As the story progresses and Harvey's lines lead Lamb and Mary together and apart and together again with Porter's illustrations continually complicating and exacerbating the emotional and psychological drama of Mary and Lamb's taboo relationship, Of Lamb develops both a growing magic and a sense of ontological frustration: how, really, can the girl and the animal love one another? However, Of Lamb's success and delight lies in the fact that it never poses such questions directly but lets the narrative built of Harvey's careful word choices interact with and rattle off and oddly illuminate Porter's illustrations, creating a seamless dialogue between the two artists that endlessly charms, humors, and, thankfully, weirds-out.

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