Absinthe Literary Review, Book Reviews Spring 2002
B O O K   R E V I E W

Autumn/E&T 2006

Core: A Romance
Kassten Alonso

Hawthorne Books & Literary Arts, Portland OR

Paperback, 203 pp., $12.95

(review by Amy Brozio-Andrews)


Moody and dark, Core: A Romance is the tale of one man's obsession with the object of his best friend's affection. Kassten Alonso's debut novel is stark and affecting. His perversion of the typical "romance" leaves the reader feeling uneasy yet eager to keep turning the pages. The ebb and flow of the narrator's flashbacks to a troubled childhood and adolescence marked by tragedy and death reinforce the roots of his madness, but rather than provide insight alone, they serve more to warn, urging the reader to beware, hinting at the awful, inevitable tragedy to come. Juxtaposing the sweet and the macabre, Alonso heightens the reader's perceptions of each.

The narrator's relationship with his best friend Cameron is as troubled as the one he had with his brother Linny as a child. Always dominated, always "less than," subject to their taunts and threats, the narrator finds in this woman, Cameron's girlfriend, someone who seems to appreciate him, like him, for who he is rather than what he can do for her (or based on his past experience, what he can be pressured to go along with). But when he realizes he will never replace Cameron in her eyes, that she will leave him, he can't bear the thought of being without her; she has become the core of his existence.

Alonso's prose is exquisite and artistic. He's able to reflect the narrator's instability amazingly well through a sort of stream of consciousness prose, while never losing the descriptiveness and lyrical quality that captures and holds the reader's attention from the first to the last page:


"She clapped her hands and stamped her feet. She scraped her fingers up her muddy thighs, her fingers upward over cutoffs and belly. Rubbed her palms over her breasts. Jackfruit and rose apple, hazelnut and roasted yam, soiled hands that grasped ruddy ears of corn. Her arms flashed overhead, hips swaying as to sloes ripe on the blackthorn, in sheepskin, in barley water, in communion She inseparate of the corn She a stalk was trembled rhythmic whetstones clashed on scythe blades."

As the narrator becomes more agitated, realizing that he's little more than a bad-weather friend to this woman whenever Cameron's too busy, traveling, or otherwise unavailable to her, Alonso allows the narration to become more grammatically haphazard but retains a tight focus.


Like a modern-day Hades lusting after his Persephone, Alonso's narrator fixates on his beloved's beauty in the context of living things:


"The gold hoops quivered in her ears. Muted sparks in her eyes. She shook and shivered in the last stand of corn. She beckoned him away from the safety of the fire. Belly and thighs soft as daffodils. Daffodils soft and eager to pull him under the muddied water, the earth, to sleep."

Alonso consistently surrounds the two when together with the imagery of spring and summer, creation and growth: they meet in corn fields, scenes are littered with daffodils, they drink apple brandy and talk about the narrator's work in clay. Paired with the ever-present dusting of clay and streaks of mud worn by the narrator, the effect of life and decay side by side is chilling, especially in the final, climactic scene between the two. 

Alonso's modern gothic tale-- think windswept American corn fields rather than dark English moors-- is absolutely arresting. Core: A Romance is the demonstration of a writer with great skill and precision. Highly recommended.

–Amy Brozio-Andrews–