Upon completion of “Cleopatra Brimstone”, I found I thoroughly enjoy
Elizabeth Hand’s writing style. While at the Stonecoast residency in January, Elizabeth read from Available Dark, and I knew then it was a book I wanted to read. Hand’s reading voice completely fit the narrator Cass Neary’s style and persona. The author sounds like she should be Cass and should be the one who is drunk and hyped up on Focalin. I don’t believe I have ever experienced such a connection between author and character before. I am glad I had the opportunity to hear Elizabeth read from one of her books. Because of this experience, I want to attend more author readings.
While reading Available Dark, Elizabeth Hand’s voice remained in my head as I read Cass’s words. This was exceptionally easy in the beginning of the novel for one because I heard the author read from the introduction and two because of the way the words were strung together. I have always thought there are no coincidences in a novel. What I mean is all the symbolism, the words that are chosen, whether used as puns or not, are all purposely placed. In the introduction of Available Dark, Hand is a genius. Her main character Cass is high and generally wasted on her life. Hand does not explain what the affects of Focalin are, Cass’s main choice of drug besides alcohol, but those who are familiar with the drug know that if they are not prescribed to you, they will act like Speed. Due to Cass’s character traits, the reader knows these pills are not a prescription for her. Therefore, the reader can deduce that Cass is buzzing like she is on speed. During this section of the novel, Hand chooses words and constructs sentences that cause the reader to speed through the reading. While reading this section, I felt like I was high on some sort of Speed-like drug. It was a very cool sensation!
Once I moved on from the introduction, I was let down by the majority of the rest of the novel. Events slowed when I thought they should pick up, and I did not feel as though there was enough tension surrounding the creepy parts of the novel. For instance, Cass is hired by a well-developed creepy guy to go to Scandinavia and authenticate a collection of photos illuminating dead people. After Cass leaves the United States, the reader never sees the creepy guy again. We are told that he was murdered, but that is all. There are a number of murders in the book, but none of them are thoroughly played out. Pictures are described well enough that the reader is able to formulate the image, but there was not any tension surrounding any of the murders, the actual murders that occurred, or the photos of the murder victims. It felt like a lot of explaining was happening rather than actions. This is something that I continually struggle with, so I am glad that I am starting to pick it out in other work.
Before reading this book, we talked about looking for coincidences in a storyline. I did not feel as though there were any coincidences in Available Dark, but I did feel like a few things fell into place a little too easily. For instance at one point in the novel, we know that Cass is going to find her long lost lover (second storyline), Quinn. When she meets up with him, she is being followed, and then she is kidnapped. When she awakens, she is inside a dark trailer and sitting next to her is Quinn. I felt like this happened too easily. It was not a coincidence, but I want to work harder while I read. Even though this was a somewhat creepy story, I felt like it was a good beach-read, not a bedtime story that made me leave the light on when I went to sleep. Due to the introduction, I was hoping for the latter.
With all of this being said, I would read more of her work because I admire her writing style. And I have been told some of her other books are quite a bit better. Available Dark is not considered to be her best work.