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Book Review: The Evil Queen by Benjamin L. Perez

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“Everyone in Hell is a literary critic,” says Mephistopheles in his prologue to The Evil Queen: A Pornolexicology, by Benjamin L. Perez.

What are we to make of this statement? Talisman, prayer, abuse? None or all of the above? And then some? Does it requires a literary critic&#8212or a reader with the deep knowledge of a critic&#8212to come to terms with this text? The depth and breadth attempted by Perez are fascinating, though the speed at which he moves through his self-proclaimed piece of “transgressive fiction” can be trying. Nonetheless, the text is a significant positive addition to a genre too often inundated with cheap and meaningless prose.

While written in English, The Evil Queen is equally at home in French, German, and Latin (translations are provided as an integral part of the text, offering a bit of language instruction for the reader alongside the Eunuch, central character and servant to the Evil Queen.) This serves to point out the limitations of each language, and indeed an early page offers a vocabulary list in the traditional strengths of each continental language; the ordered and rational Latin, the sensual and studious French, and the muscular, technological German.

Perez’s deep interest in language is reaffirmed with each discrete segment of the text, which progress in a generally linear manner according to the three major parts of the book: the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the Ascension and/or Descension. A glossary completes the text and provides references in four languages, as well as scientific and religious-theoretical terms. In these individual segments, sometimes a fragment, sometimes a few pages long, the Eunuch serves the Evil Queen in every possible capacity, graphically and carefully catalogued by Perez. The formatting of these segments plays an important role in a reading of the text, imposing a pace and rhythm that owes as much to contemporary poetry as it does to hypertext.

Yet at this point of its highest ambition the text does not always retain its unity and integrity. Perhaps we can look at these moments as a success, in that they illuminate the limitations of the written word, regardless of language. As a group, however, they reveal the over-eagerness of the text to be “transgressive” without providing a sufficient reason for being so. In these moments, The Evil Queen becomes vulnerable and presents the reader with an unnecessary challenge. The accusation most frequently leveled against transgressive authors from Georges Bataille to Dennis Cooper is that their work tends to the confrontational simply to be confrontational.

The validity of this claim has yet to be proven in Perez’s case, though one imagines that with such skill as is displayed in The Evil Queen, and with such a demonstrated love for the theory and practice of language and writing, his future work will be that much stronger. Perez is a bright new talent worth keeping an eye on, and The Evil Queen is a promising achievement.
ed: JH Edited: PC

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About Jason Malikow

  • http://paperfrigate.blogspot.com Pat Cummings

    This book review has been selected for Advance.net. You’ll be able to find this and other Blog Critics reviews at such places as Cleveland.com’s Book Reviews column.