Cameron Pierce is a modern existentialist injected with elements of the Kafkaesque, bolstered by the strange tribulations of romance and desire. In his collection, Lantern Jaws, we’re treated to tiny elephants who wander a city, a woman who gives birth almost immediately after sex, and a couple whose lives are threaded and bound by physical blue strings. Reading the eponymous story Lantern Jaws felt like a quasar imploded in my head and birthed a new universe. Literally, as the heroine, Vanessa hides something akin to a civilization within her masked mouth. It’s a stirring allegory for the intricacies of not just family history, but the cultural idiosyncrasies that often mar the best of relationships. In this case, Vanessa’s mother is a fantasy creature gone awry, the evil step-mother who is doing her best to guard what is left of her people. An analysis of Kafka’s Metamorphosis between the two young lovers makes for one of the most interesting exchanges in the collection:
“The Metamorphosis is a story about two monsters: modernity and the father. Gregor Samsa is a man who has been consumed by these monsters. Instead of killing him right off, the monsters transform him into a monster himself. Samsa is a martyr, a Christ figure. It’s a parable for modern times, although Kafka’s daddy issues and persecution complex obviously played a role in its creation.”
“So it’s a monster story, but the actual monsters aren’t the ones you’re reading about?” No wonder I found The Metamorphosis boring.
There are actual monsters in the Lantern Jaws, just as the humans struggle with the abnormalities of existential angst that render them into inhuman beasts. It’s the failure in communication that is often the culprit for the unwanted “metamorphosis.”That is nowhere better illustrated than in the story, “Death Card,” where Tristan is “the guy who converted the vertical Japanese speech bubbles to horizontal bubbles for the English editions, a thankless task for which he was unanimously hated by the writers, artists, and editors he worked with, but it was a necessary aspect.” It’s not just the translation and geometrical bubble shapes that are causing troubles. Tristan and his pregnant wife, Emily, have tensions that are symbolized by the toys Tristan cherishes. As he thinks about why a trio of Waldo-dressed patrons visit the sex shop he works on weekends, he realizes that “they came here not for the sweet staleness that clung to the air, but for an opportunity to reclaim the broken dreams signified by that odor.” He’s mired in his own lost ambitions, while Emily, who makes her own creatures, is miffed and jealous of the toys he cherishes in favor of the ones she makes.
The collection hides many layers, weaving allegory into horror show and love stories. The dialogue and prose are sharp, creative, and paint a strange but familiar world. In the story, “Crazy Love,” a second person narrative leads to a disastrous end:
“She opens the door and leaps out of the bus. Her wings unfold like a lovely umbrella and you sail toward the sun. Deep down in the canyon, the bus explodes. Those strangers are dead now. It’s just you and the pterodactyl.”
Jump out of the bus, leap into the wings of Cameron Pierce’s Lantern Jaws. You might plunge into a canyon, but the ride will be brilliant.
Get Lantern Jaws at Amazon: