Saturday, October 28, 2023

Generation Loss: Elizabeth Hand

Description from the back of the book:

Cass Neary made her name in the 1970s as a photographer embedded in the burgeoning punk movement in New York City. Her pictures of the musicians and hangers on, the infamous, the damned, and the dead, got her into art galleries and a book deal. But thirty years later she is adrift, on her way down, and almost out. Then an old acquaintance sends her on a mercy gig to interview a famously reclusive photographer who lives on an island in Maine.

The main character, Cassandra Neary, is a photographer who was famous for one book she published in the 1970s, but she has gone downhill since, and has mostly spent her time working in a bookstore, not pursuing her photography. Excessive drinking is her coping mechanism. 

An old friend offers her the opportunity to interview her idol, Aphrodite Kamestos, who now lives on a secluded island in Maine. So Cass takes off from her job for a while and heads for the island, not realizing how isolated it is. The setting is fantastic – gritty and dark and cold.

This might be the strangest mystery I have ever read. The central character tells the story in first person narrative. She is in an unfamiliar environment among people she has never met before. She doesn't know who to trust and they don't trust her. The reader's knowledge is limited to what Cass sees and hears, feels, and how she interprets what is going on. There are crimes hinted at, but no real, proven crimes for the first 90% of the book, which was confusing. Some classify it as a mystery thriller, but it is only a thriller toward the end. 


Even though I was trying to figure out what was going on through most of the book, I enjoyed it. Even when I was frustrated with the story, I could not stop turning the pages. For me Generation Loss was an incredible book, it just wasn't at all what I was expecting. There are four books in the series and I already have the second one, so I will read it to follow up on Cass and see where her life goes from here.

This book won the Shirley Jackson Award for Novel for 2007. The Shirley Jackson Awards honor outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic. In addition to the Cass Neary series, Elizabeth Hand has written novels and short stories in the Science Fiction, Horror,  and Fantasy genres.

Publisher:   Small Beer Press, 2007
Length:       268 pages
Format:      Trade paper
Series:       Cass Neary, #1
Setting:      Small island off the coast of Maine, USA
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      I purchased this book.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I just read a review in the NYT of her new book, an homage to THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, which looked great. I am pretty sure I read this one. I know Megan is a huge fan.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I must also add I admire the way you stick with a book and give it a chance to win you over. I am not so patient and I have probably missed finishing a lot of books because of that.

Kathy's Corner said...

Generation Loss sounds really good. And I am thinking having Cassie's past immersed in the NYC punk scene of the 1970's is a central part of the novel. I don't know much about the 1970's punk scene but to my knowledge it involved drugs and a certain amount of nihilism which isn't healthy in the long run.

TracyK said...

Patti, Glen would like to read Hand's new book, A Haunting on the Hill. I would wait and see what he thinks of it, but I haven't even read the original yet. I did see Megan's very positive comments on one of the books in this series at Hand's website.

I do often stick with books when I don't initially like them, I actually need to work at being more ruthless. But I have read many that prove to be worth it in the end.

TracyK said...

Kathy, Generation Loss is a book that I liked a lot better once I was done with it, than when I was reading it. Cass Neary is a challenging character to read about. It is interesting to have a mature character (age wise) in such a role.

I don't know much about the 70s punk scene either. I had to look up nihilism, it is one of those concepts I have to review every time it comes up. And it is used in some of the reviews / blurbs of the book.

Lark@LarkWrites said...

I haven't read this one, but I have read the second book in this series, Available Dark, where Cass ends up in Iceland. That one is also gritty and dark, but I remember liking it.

TracyK said...

Lark, I wondered if you had read anything by this author. I bought Available Dark first, at the Planned Parenthood book sale, about 5 years ago. Then I decided I wanted to read the 1st book before that one. I am glad to hear that you liked Available Dark, and the setting in Iceland sounds good.

Cath said...

Not something I would probably pick up as I do get tired of so many alcoholics and drug takers in crime novels. Glad you enjoyed it though!

TracyK said...

Cath, I sympathize with that, and Cass was hard to like most of the time. The writing held my interest, though, even when it wasn't apparent how this story fit into the mystery genre.

Margot Kinberg said...

This sounds like an interesting protagonist, Tracy. And the premise is intriguing, too. I sometimes think that the first-person point of view is especially effective when the author wants to create either an unreliable narrator or an atmosphere of suspense and doubt (e.g., whom to trust), and it sounds as though that's done effectively here.

Sam said...

This really sounds good, Tracy. I like first person narratives that limit the reader to what that one person sees, hears, or figures out for themselves because it's so much like experiencing everything for yourself. That's definitely one of my favorite mystery styles...and the more unreliable the narrator the better because I love those little lightbulbs clicking on when I realize that the narrator has just missed a vital clue or two. I want to look at this one.

TracyK said...

Margot, the protagonist was very interesting because she was mostly an unsympathetic character, yet you could feel her pain, and were pulling for her. What she is like in future books, I don't know.

TracyK said...

Sam, at one time I pretty much limited myself to reading only mysteries with first person narratives. Looking back that sounds very limiting, and it was decades ago. I have always liked that style, for the reasons you mention.

thecuecard said...

It sounds a bit confusing but you persevered! I see that Elizabeth Hand's latest novel “A Haunting on the Hill" was just on the cover of the NYT book review section. It looks nice & spooky and a fitting homage to Shirley Jackson. Good luck with Book 2.

TracyK said...

Cuecard, my husband is thinking about reading A Haunting on the Hill. I haven't read Shirley Jackson's book yet but it is on my Classics List.

I think I will like book two of Hand's Cass Neary series. I hope it is a little less confusing than book one. The setting sounds good (Finland and Iceland), although I know little about the book.