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Book Review: Drenched by Marisa Matarazzo

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Reading Marisa Matarazzo’s Drenched is like plunging into a pool of some liquid hallucinogen – absinthe perhaps? Drenched is subtitled: Stories of Love and Other Deliriums and it is delirious indeed. Delirious and delicious. A collection of linked short-stories, Drenched redefines the terms “crafted” and “tightly focused.” Matarazzo’s pieces are luminous pearls joined with a silken strand. Together they gleam, polished and perfect; individually, the ripples, the variations, the swirling colors, and occasional rough edge lend each story its own unique beauty.

Drenched is also nearly impossible to explain. I tried to explain to my husband why I loved it, and why I thought he wouldn’t. The conversation went something like this:

Me: I haven’t read anything else like it. It’s surreal, sort of. Things happen that can’t really happen, but you just accept them.
My husband: Stephen King does that sometimes; I like his stuff He launches into an explanation of a town unearthing a spaceship.
Me: No, there’s no explanation. You just accept that this is how things are. It’s a little like Kafka, but not so dark. Beautiful. Nothing makes any sense, but it works.
My husband: So, it’s Alice in Wonderland
Me:Sort of, but without the talking animals. But not really. For example, there’s a guy with rose quartz teeth that heat up when he gets happy. His girlfriend gets all these burns on her lips when they kiss.
My husband: (incredulous) His teeth heat up??
Me: I told you I couldn’t explain it.

The above dialog does no justice to Matarazzo’s work which manages somehow to be simultaneously elegant, whimsical, and disturbing. However, it does give a hint of the difficulties inherent in classifying this unique book. Drenched pulls fragments of itself from fantasy, romance, surrealism, and literary fiction and yet is none of these; it transcends categorization.

Drenched swirls with color and temperature, saturated in shades of blue and red. Cool and hot mingle and occasionally collide in the lives of Matarazzo’s quirky, passionate, and often broken characters. “The room is filled with water, floor to ceiling. Our bodies slippery, salty sweat washed over in cold water. We float still for a moment, suspended, in the middle of the room. Arms out, legs apart, like skydivers. We feel the cool. Her hair is like dark anemone, swaying.” The luxurious aquatic fantasy of the first story literally implodes, cascading to a finish where blue supplants the expected red. “These thoughts I think, they do not help. In my heart, an aneurysm. A fluid-filled sac, soused milky blue, cerulean. The walls of my arteries go runny.” The second story flares in scarlet juxtaposition to the liquid tones of the first. “Despite the complications, they kiss constantly. She can hardly stop herself, she loves to kiss him. His rose-quartz teeth taste like maraschino cherries. It’s the red flavoring of her kidhood and erupts memory fireworks in her mouth.”

Matarazzo plays with language with the deceptive deftness of a court jester. Into passages of luscious eloquence, “soused milky blue, cerulean,” she tosses neologisms such as “kidhood” or pungent bursts of casual profanity. The effect is stimulating, exhilarating, and terrifying. Extraordinary writing frightens us; it shows us the mysterious, dark places within our minds and souls, and it shows us the incandescence of which we are capable. Both terrify. In Drenched, Marisa Matarazzo achieves this result with such subtle skill that one almost believes one has escaped with soul intact, but for the electrical buzz along the mind and the tantalizing images imprinted on the retinas.

Drenched is sensual and profoundly sexual without ever veering toward pornography. If the problem with pornography lies in the objectification, the de-personalization, Drenched is its antithesis. The appeals to the body in these stories are deeply personal, profoundly intimate. With names that are more like titles than Christenings, the characters of Drenched could be anyone, no one, or everyone. “My Love pressed his wet body against mine and the areas beneath all of my skin felt hollowed out, unloaded. And the skin keeping my shape felt permeable, so that his touch passed through me. My head felt like bubbles. We swayed.”

Love also turns inside out, inverting into the shadow where the dark things crawl.

Danguy Weck walks swiftly and tight-legged to his house and directly to his room. Little Sis is kneeling in front of his aquarium tapping the glass and scaring his neon tetras. Danguy stands behind her. Feels the heat from Budweiser Dad’s hands and body impressed on his skin. Feels too warm. Even the button and the zipper on his jeans feel red-hot. As though they’ve just been pulled from a fire, attached to his pants, and are now scorching his skin. Danguy wonders if it’s his own body producing this heat, if he’s having an exothermic reaction to something.

In Drenched the beautiful and the abhorrent coexist. “Never the point are the things. Always, it’s what comes after.” After and before. I think I have figured out how to describe Drenched: Drenched is life – crystallized and condensed in all of its beauty, horror, and impossibility.

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