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Book Review – Glimmering by Elizabeth Hand


Synopsis: It is 1999. The Last Days, or some say, the First. The climate has warmed dramatically, the cities have imploded into ritous shards, & the sky is a glimmering array of reds & greens & golds.

In fin de siecle New York, a millionaire publisher, a jaded rock star, & the girl who, in her own way, loves them both are watching the waters rise as the cults begin the frenzies of the Night of the Thousand Years.


First Line: “Afterward he would think, We should have known it was coming.”

Random Quote: “He stood & stretched, for a minute remained in the middle of the room & stared out the west-facing window. Beyond the black-&-violet-edged line of the Palisades a molten glow lingered, sending ruddy flourishes across the rain-swollen Hudson. Jack felt the strange blurry sensation that overcame him sometimes when some bright fleck of his childhood surfaced & the terrible weight of the poisoned sky momentarily lifted. Almost he could imagine the sun bulging red upon the western horizon; almost he could see the first stars showing through, & the glitter of electric lights in distant skyscrapers. A spark of gold leapt across the darkness & Jack’s heart with it, as upon its promontory overlooking the Hudson the skeletal arches of the Sparkle-Glo factory blazed with sunset.”

Review: In Glimmering, Elizabeth Hand imagines an apocalyptic, but not cataclysmic, end of the end. It’s like the difference between dying on the sidewalk from a massive heart attack & dying in inches from Alzheimer’s in your own bed; the destination is the same, but the path is pretty different.

This is not a book about plot. If you need your reads to be tightly plotted, this isn’t the one for you. If, however, you love character, place, time, & beautiful descriptive writing you’ll enjoy this.

I’m very fond of Hand. Waking the Moon is one of my all-time favorite reads – one I return to again & again for it’s beautiful story of what it’s like to lose that one true love & survive it to love again. Sounds way cornier than it is since that leaves out the college setting, the ancient orders of paternalistic vs. maternalistic societies, The Benandati (the paternalistic movers & shakers behind the scenes of the world since ancient times), & the simple pleasures of Washington, DC.

Glimmering is a very different novel than Waking the Moon, but it has many of the elements that make Hand’s writing a pleasure – strong imagery, coherent worldview, words that taste good. She has an uncanny ability to mix goth, raver, & cyberpunk elements while retaining a sense of inclusiveness that makes this work a pleasure to read.

I also appreciate that she writes frankly & honestly about homosexuality without stereotyping or caricaturing or delimiting. In Hand’s books, homosexuality is normalized as just another fact about a character rather than put on display as a centralizing & defining trait. She isn’t necessarily using homosexuality to illustrate a point, but rather creating a world where it’s as much a part of life as heterosexuality. Since that’s the world I choose to live in (real or not), I appreciate this element in her books.

Glimmering doesn’t provide any comfortable answers nor does it wrap up any simple plot twists in a bow for presentation to the reader. Instead it takes us on a journey through what the end of the end may look like. To quote Kurt Cobain, “Here we are now. Entertain us.”

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