Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Covering Alice

There are two basic methods for a band to play a cover song. The first is to attempt a note-for-note, beat-for-beat reproduction of what appears on the original record. This method is probably most done by weekend warrior style bands punching out versions of “Mustang Sally” and “Freebird”. The second method is for a band to play with the song through any number of methods (adding effects, changing the tempo, adding your own guitar solo) to the point that you make the song their own. The Hendrix version of “All Along the Watchtower” is a perfect example; his version is so solidly Hendrix that a good number of people aren’t even aware that it’s originally a Bob Dylan tune.

A few years ago editor Richard Peabody sent out a battle cry to the lit world to create short fiction inspired by or about Lewis Carroll, Alice, and her adventures in Wonderland. The new anthology Alice Redux: New Stories of Alice, Lewis and Wonderland collects the best of what Peabody received and is a perfect example of the second method of covering another artist’s material. Thirty-one works in all, each piece spins the material on its head and showcases the unique talents and interests of the contributing author. Running from s/f to fantasy to realism to cutting edge experimental work, the broad range of fiction in this book is a testament to Peabody's own broad taste and editorial eye for picking out solid work, no matter what the style or genre.

Victoria Podpan’s “Looking through the Glass” uses pieces of Carroll’s work as a fantasy place for two small girls to run to and escape some very real world terrors. “Alice and Huck Got Married” by Miles David Moore works as a literary mash-up of sorts, showing us what might happen if Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn married Carroll’s Alice. A few, like Jeffrey M. Bockman’s “The Golden Afternoon” and Suzy Sherman’s “Forever Alice”, take the realistic route by showing other facets of the real lives of Alice Liddell and Charles Dodgson, the real man behind the pen name Lewis Carroll.

A handful of pieces come pretty close to Carroll’s witty word play and odd sense of symbolism. Robert Coover’s “Alice in the Time of the Jabberwock” shows Alice returning to Wonderland as an adult while Jeff Noon’s “Automated Alice” pushes a confused and desperate Alice through a fabulous Wonderland version of life-after-death. While they owe a lot to the original vision and style of Carroll’s work, both authors bring enough of themselves (Noon manages to work in some fun references to his novel Vurt) to make the pieces uniquely their own.

Although this book is a rare exception in that I really enjoyed every piece, there are some works that won’t appeal to everyone. “Alice Undermined” by C M Dupree works as a brilliant piece of philosophy that focuses on a fabulously surreal and absurd moment of Alice balancing on a wall a la Humpty Dumpty. Lance Olsen’s “A Brief History of the Charles Scrolls” and “Alice Doesn’t Live (T)here Any More” by Doug Rice are both tight, brilliantly crafted, language driven pieces of literary terrorism tearing apart the very ideas of what Alice and Carroll are. All three I found fabulous, but their experimental nature might not appeal to a more general audience. But with so much other material that should, like Wonderland itself Alice Redux as a whole really has a bit of something for everyone.


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