I am a picky reader.
The cause is not due to any literary conceits. Nor does the difficulty in finding toothsome reads stem from ego or arrogance. It is simply a taste for unusual material. While I could get Freudian on the matter, the truth is—I like the weird stuff, stories that take me down strange rabbit holes where I experience things beyond the pale. That is not to say I cannot and do not enjoy more mainstream fiction; the fact that The Hobbit is my favorite book of all time gives that away. But, that is more an anomaly than the norm. Some of my other favorite books are less famed but no less loved; Willard and his Bowling Trophies by Richard Brautigan, Maia by Richard Adams and An Endless Hunger by Narcisse Navarre are but three that readily come to mind.
It has been over a year since I read The Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore; the last novel that gripped me—a story that transported me into a world completely and delivered rich, fantastic experiences. Since then I have started a dozen books and abandoned them.
That literary drought ended when I picked up A Mouthful of Tongues: Her Totipotent Tropicanalia by Paul Di Filippo. I found this novel while searching for something thrilling and erotic in the genre of science fiction. There is a lot of sleaze and porn out there (which is fine) but nothing that intrigued me. For classics, I read Philip José Farmer but found it didn’t age well nor did it grab me. I also purchased The Void Captain’s Tale by Norman Spinrad and The Tides of Lust by Samuel R. Delaney. Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni is in the queue as well, but it was Di Filippo’s book that captured my imagination the most.
From the very start, A Mouthful of Tongues hooked me. I will indulge in the barest of teases in hopes of whetting your curiosity, as the few other reviews that exist expose too much and ruin the delicious surprises that await. This story yearns to be read with virgin expectations. No, not yearns—desires!
A Mouthful of Tongues is set on Earth in 2015, though it is not the Earth as we know it. It is the Earth of another dimension—slightly to the left— the ribofunk kissing cousin to Gibson’s cyberpunk world. We follow a corporate wage slave named Kelly Hackett as she endures an exceptionally bad day. It is also the day of her most profound decision—one that will ultimately affect the world in ways she could have never imagined.
On the surface, A Mouthful of Tongues is the story of a woman’s transformation and sexual liberation, but read further and you will discover that this is also a tale of humanity, spirituality and an exploration of the divine. That is not to say that the erotic element is somehow diminished. Oh, what sex there is in this book! I’ve yet to read erotica that is more unsettling and arousing.
The prose is lush, with a surreal quality all its own. Di Filippo’s writing is a delight as he paints scenes that are vivid and soulful. Here’s a taste:
[The funicular] docked at the top of the hill, latches engaging noisily in a possessive iron lovebite. The waiting downward riders, few in number at this early morning hour, clustered wearily some distance away on the platform, allowing their fellow workers to disembark. Hopping down first, the standees began to trickle off along the bosky, macaw-and-parrot-accented avenues leading to the demanding lawns, kitchens, flowerbeds and kennels of their employers. The seated riders emerged more slowly through the open accordion doors at front and rear that channeled them.
One young woman stepping firmly down stood out from her compatriots, if only for her uncommon red hair like a cataract of lava, twisted and pinned into a weighty bun. Her pellucid faintly olive skin contrasted with the muddier or swarthier complexions of her peers. Her amplitudinous body, a wealth of breast, hips, and stomach, upper arms fleshy like pears, conducted a silent yet vehement argument with the demure white uniform of a lady’s maid concealing it. White lisle stockings disappeared inside solid black shoes, their cracked leather polished with obvious care.
Wearing a faint and distant smile, the redhead strode with an air of untroubled confidence through the shady curves and down long straight stretches of roadway framed alternately by pollarded jacarandas or sharp-leafed palms. Occasionally from behind tall wrought-iron fences came the bark of an overzealous guard dog. Nannies and governesses trundled or tugged their youthful charges down the slate sidewalks. Sanitation workers guided broom-and-shovel-racked nightsoil carts full of horse manure collected from the raked gravel streets. To all these workers the woman in white made polite hellos.
Finally she arrived at a spear-topped gate which bore a simple metal plaque declaring the manse beyond to be REYMOA HOUSE. The snout of a simple speaking-tube protruded between two bars of the fence, its attached pipe diving into the ground, presumably to resurface in the mansion. The woman brought her unpainted full lips close to the funnel and announced herself: “Maura Colapietro, reporting for duty.” She paused a moment, as if trying to summon up a fuller explanation, then added, “This is my first day of employment.”
While reading this book, I was so immersed that I felt utterly transported beyond my bedroom walls. I lost all sense of time and place as I was thrust into Di Filippo’s fiction. Even after setting it down, the ideas inspired by this book continued to ricochet within my consciousness, giving rise to new ideas and questions and so on.
A Mouthful of Tongues is a short novel at 184 pages, but the story it tells and the imagery it conjures is epic. I simply cannot endorse a book with any more enthusiasm! I love this book and encourage you to indulge in its pages as soon as possible.