Books & Literary Arts, Portland OR
203 pp., $12.95
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
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.