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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Jiggedy-jig, and Jeff Sypeck on Maze of Blood

Back from three wondrous weeks of adventure at Santiago, Valparaiso, Huaca Pucllana, Lima, Cuzco, Machu Picchu, Chichen Itza, and other points to the south. Posts will resume after jet lag ebbs!

In the meantime, here's a new piece about Maze of Blood from writer and poet Jeff Sypeck. 

Clip from the review: 
Howard wouldn’t have liked Maze of Blood; the novel is propelled not by a straightforward plot or by swashbuckling action but by subtle, non-linear vignettes that gently peel away the layers of Conall Weaver’s mind. Still, Youmans does Howard justice, taking him more seriously than many people close to him ever did. When Conall’s girlfriend wonders “why a tale has to have so much thrashing about in it . . . as though a story were a Mexican jumping bean, and inside is some horrible larval thing that’s trying to get out,” Youmans portrays their clash as the latest failed connection in a fervent life:
     “But hardly anybody ever stumbles on a buried city or a labyrinth. Nobody ever finds magical snakes sneaking through the ground. Nobody ever tries to steal somebody’s soul.”
     “Oh, I don’t know. It seems to me like rattlesnakes are always magically underfoot in Texas. And I don’t know about you, but these gourd-headed people are always sneaking around, trying to find and steal my soul. They want to bottle it up somehow, so that I can’t get out. And labyrinths? Labyrinths are funny places. A job at the five-and-dime can mean being shut up in a too-symmetrical labyrinth, needing to find a way out. A family tree can look like a drawing of a maze, all disorderly and full of dead ends and hushed-up horrors. Even a prairie or a desert can be a labyrinth, if you look at it right. Lots of people are caught in one and can’t find their way out, or don’t like the only path out. Maybe I’m one of those people.”
     Maybelline made a gesture as if throwing off unrealistic dilemmas. 
Maze of Blood is an implicit defense of fantasy. The escapism it inspires isn’t frivolous; it’s rooted in the true lives—the true needs—of writers and readers alike.

What I appreciate most about Maze of Blood is that Marly Youmans doesn’t treat the troubled writer as a testosterone-addled buffoon, nor does she let his strange, fierce attachment to his mother overshadow his complex inner life. Instead, she’s sensitive to the possibility that he’s a kindred spirit in the arts, an inspired storyteller stuck in the absolutely wrong place and unable, emotionally or intellectually, to escape.


Above are images of Jeff Sypeck's books--Becoming Charlemagne (nonfiction), Looking Up (poems inspired by National Cathedral gargoyles), and The Tale of Charlemagne and Ralph the Collier (translation.) Links to purchase them can be found at Quid plura?


  1. Ralph the Collier is great weird fun.

    1. Oh, I do mean to read that one some day. I need a retreat to read, now that my eye is better! Hope that's not famous last words...

  2. Wow—I come home from a six-hour round-trip drive after seeing a staging of "Henry VI, Part 1" only to find all of my book covers featured on your blog. Thanks!

    In my review of Maze of Blood, I forgot to mention that I read the last two sections of the book by flashlight during the first of several countryside power outages. In retrospect, it was appropriately eerie.

    1. And you have a compliment from Scott Bailey, too! All good. The 97% of writers (especially the good ones) need their books thrust forward as much as is possible, don't they?

      Oh, I like that, the thought of your light burning in the darkness while the meteorite and the Spirit of Story (just realized that's an SOS) descend....

    2. I appreciate that compliment from Scott, most definitely. I recently unboxed his novel and put it on the to-read shelf in my new office. I wish it weren't taking so long, but we still have rooms full of taped-up boxes, and suddenly it's nearly December.

      And yeah, those of us in the 97 percent can only keep doing what we can to help others' books find their readers. In the past year or two, nearly all of my book-related blog posts have been about non-famous authors or books, usually poetry, from teeny-tiny presses. If nothing else, it's something for potential readers to consider when they google the authors or their work. I wish I could do more, but if I truly knew the secret to selling books, I'd be countin' my money on Easy Street...

    3. That effort is well worth making, I think. Now that I am seeing better, I have started working on a book that won a big poetry prize... a year after, not one review or piece or anything has appeared! It's hard to know what would help, these days.

      The effort to turn literature into widgets for the marketplace has blighted the culture. We have to do what we can to care for the genuine.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.