by Melonie Magruder
Who said literature is dead? In an age when tablets proliferate and the ink-and-paper printed word seems to fall deeper and deeper into antediluvian obscurity, pockets of literary hope can be found in the most unlikely corners.
Incanto Press, based in the Bay Area, is launching its first slate of books this summer.
That’s real books, with pages and dust jackets. Midwifed by Peter B. Miller, a computer- science-entrepreneur-turned-literary-maven, Incanto looks to appeal to that demographic most likely to actually follow a contemporary novel from beginning to end - youngish, professional, mostly female readers who balance the realistic demands of careers with unyielding belief in the perfect romance.
In fact, publisher Miller says Incanto has four distinct themes, for the reader looking to explore personal spiritual discovery to modern fairy tales in the form of graphic novels.
“One of our books, ‘Perverse Wonderland,’ is a story of how a woman decides to take the greatest risk of her life and move from Los Angeles to England to be with a man she met on a previous trip,” Miller said. “It doesn't quite work out the way she thought it would. Her story appeals to strong women who follow their own path but, like all of us, can find that their courage is not enough when dealing with a person who one has misjudged.”
Fifteen years ago, “Bridget Jones’ Diary” and “Sex and the City” showcased women fighting the undertow of 21st-century gender wars, and usually found themselves being carried far downstream. Jennifer, the heroine in “Perverse Wonderland,” falls flat on her “arse” and comes out the better for it.
Los Gatos resident and author Jennifer Harrison, whose long auburn locks and porcelain skin appear strikingly like that of her heroine (“More like anti-heroine,” she demurs), said her story is less a post-“Bridget Jones” Bridget Jones and more the logical next step for Katniss Everdeen of “The Hunger Games.”
“Katniss is the one who is smarter, the one who rescues, the one who is emotionally ambivalent,” Harrison said. “The ‘Perverse’ heroine doesn't use bows and arrows in a literal sense, but she attacks real life difficulties that we all face in relationships and in that arena is no less of a modern female warrior, rescuing herself and others in an emotional sense.”
Harrison’s story is based in large part on a real-life journey that, as she said, “went spectacularly wrong.” Alpha woman who was always the one to leave broken hearts in her wake follows an impulse of the heart that takes her nearly half way around the world and down the proverbial rabbit hole of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” in Oxford, England.
With her heart, her mind, her libido and her hair - all fully drawn characters - constantly bickering about Jennifer’s next, best move (and chastising her for all her missteps), the “Perverse” heroine navigates a looking glass world where men suddenly are not the bedazzled hostages of her past experience, her confidence is as shattered as her soul, and she takes to drowning her sorrows in every form of alcohol known to a proper British pub.
In the end, though, it is Jennifer and all her alter egos who man up, sort out the lessons to be learned and become a better incarnation - for herself and maybe what ever lucky guy she might meet post-Apocalypse.
Harrison enthusiastically embraces the Katniss analogy.
“In a way that my generation did not have, this new generation of [readers] has an example of a modern heroine, on the right track,” Harrison said. “But what happens when they hit college, young adulthood? With too few exceptions, that voice is gone, and they're left with Cosmopolitan, celebrity perfection-driven magazines, and similar drivel. So we make ‘Perverse’ part of that already established movement by providing a voice not only to the next generation of young adult women raised on Katniss and Hermione (of 'Harry Potter' fame), but also for the women like me who didn't grow up reading great alternate examples of who women really are.”
Harrison takes the responsibility of literary example strongly to heart. Her mother is a teaching professor at a Northern California university and her grandmother was a notorious southern belle socialite in Tennessee.
When her mother, Martha Harrison, was a teenager, she was a national baton twirling champion and the darling of Memphis. So much so that her fame outshone a certain, pelvis-swinging blues crooner in the late 50s.
Martha and Elvis used to commiserate on the price of fame (all of which is detailed in Harrison’s 2003 memoir, “Elvis As We Knew Him”). The “Perverse” Jennifer has a lot of female Amazon examples to live up to.
“She isn't reduced to typical female narratives and inhabits both femininity and masculinity not fitting perfectly into one or the other,” Harrison said. “The ‘Perverse’ heroine as the Katniss of the adult ‘real life’ world [carries] over that warrior mentality from adolescence, where literature is starting to say it's okay for us to live in a world beyond gender stereotypes, into adulthood, where it is still not quite okay or understood.”
is currently working on her followup graphic novel about her “Perverse” heroine. If she has anything
to say about it, the ideal 21st-century heroine packs a punch with as much
power as a caress.
Melonie Magruder is a journalist in the Los Angeles area.