All art is illusion that seeks to comment on the experience of the real world or to clarify and perhaps enhance it in some way. The illusion takes innumerable forms, each effective in varying degree according to the genius of its creator, and two of the most durable of these are the satire and the fairy tale. Although both are frequently attempted, they are extremely difficult to carry out successfully, and being widely dissimilar vehicles, are seldom found in combination. When so encountered they usually appear as parody or burlesque. Satirical fairy tales are uncommon, and brilliant examples rare. Lore Segal has given us such a rarity in Lucinella.
That this novel of illusions and truth is indeed a fairy tale is established immediately by the name of the principal character, which, in terms of word origin, is the exact opposite of an old familiar heroine. “Cinderella” is derived from darkness, “Lucinella” from light. Other elements of the genre appear from time to time: magic, mystery, transformation, and the midnight denouement. Segal has spun a delicate fabric woven from the laughter and tears that life is made of, and although it combines satire and fairy tale it ultimately transcends both.
Lucinella the poet seeks enlightenment and she tells her own story of the quest. Her half-life in the literary world, interplaying with that of other inhabitants, has all the hectic irrationality of a dream; her occasional brief emergence into reality is as clear and sharp as sunlight, but she merely notes it in passing. Completely encased in her environment, she even writes her own soap operas so that she can have something to read. Like the others she searches frantically for originality and inspiration, seeking in all the least likely places—the next drink, the next inbred conversation, the next casual bed partner. Her characters, made up as she goes along, are deliberately constructed of cardboard: they are all stereotypes easily recognized by anyone familiar with literary circles, and her story is from its inception a wise and witty vision of the superficial in search of the profound.
It cannot be said that Segal blazes any new trails in this respect; after all, the cultivated eccentricities of the artistic have been satirized many times. Seldom, however, have they been skewered with such obvious delight by one who knows and understands them so well. The cardboard figures threaten continually to become three-dimensional, and Lucinella finds it difficult to keep them in their place. As for Lucinella herself, she is nearly three-dimensional to begin with. Totally disorganized but with a passion for order, she struggles with her Muse and is known as a good poet in a minor way; in her pusuit of truth she is forever asking questions, but the other characters reply with meaningless jargon or semiresponses to questions no one would bother to ask. Her answer is in the glimpses of sunlight, but she fails to recognize it. Instead she searches in her own circle, where the sun never shines, and looks forward to a final revelation—The Great Orgasm—which will make everything plain.
Much of Lucinella’s world revolves around parties, in which all of those in attendance vie for recognition, indulge their petty jealousies and vanities, and hope for the greatness that eludes them. All are creatures with easily wounded sensibilities; as Lucinella says, each has an Underground where he keeps all the slights and injuries of a lifetime, and when he feels threatened the things in his Underground creep out. Each also has a Bucket intended to hold friends and lovers, but the Bucket lacks a bottom.
Notable among the other characters are the Young and Old Lucinellas. They are not exactly cruel stepsisters, but they attend the parties and serve to remind Lucinella the poet of what she was and what she will probably become. William, the poet who lives with Lucinella and wants to marry her if she ever decides she loves him, is unaccountably and refreshingly normal. Definitely an anti-hero and something of an anti-Prince Charming as well, William serves as a sort of anchor point in chaos. We suspect there may be hope for him. Zeus, a real deity who is working as a college professor while in partial retirement, seduces Lucinella and gives her life its great moment of human warmth and laughter—and a further glimpse of the world she cannot find. He fills the role of fairy godfather and grants her a wish; though he does not provide the ultimate revelation, he helps to make it possible. The wicked stepfather, if there is one, is critic Max Peters, who aphorizes most of the poets into temporary oblivion. He is, however, banished by a few words of icy clarity from the world beyond the dream. Segal’s gift for introducing this kind of punctuation is almost uncanny.
(The entire section is 1969 words.)