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Prose that shimmers on the page

By Jeffrey Sartain - Guest Column
Jan. 27, 2016 at 10:27 p.m.

Jeffrey Sartain

Jeffrey Sartain   Contributed Photo by K. Jordan for The Victoria Advocate

Thursday's speaker in the University of Houston-Victoria/ABR Reading Series is Rikki Ducornet, an acclaimed novelist, poet, essayist, painter and illustrator.

Ducornet is a world traveler and resident of numerous countries through the years, and her fiction reflects the sensibility of a globalizing world. Settings, characters and situations in her books traverse numerous territories, both real and imagined.

Ducornet is well-known for her fantastical four-book alchemy series, which includes her debut book, "The Stain," as well as "Entering Fire," "The Fountains of Neptune" and "The Jade Cabinet." Her multiplicity of talents in writing and art shows up in the lavish texture and tone of these four works, which are written in part around the evocation of particular feelings she associates with the book's thematic element: earth, fire, water or air.

Ducornet's style of fiction often blends the intellectual play of postmodern literary fiction with the warmth of a more intimate language of storytelling. Often calling on the surrealism and eroticism of dreams, Ducornet's prose shimmers on the page, suggesting worlds and realities beyond the day-to-day.

The literary and imaginative qualities of Ducornet's fiction make her work a high point of postmodern fiction in the United States. Postmodern fiction is often thought of as a dense and sometimes heady literary tradition, focused on language's tenuous connection to meaning. In contrast to the stereotype, Ducornet's work demonstrates a deep connection to the body, to the senses and to feeling that is too often absent in her contemporaries' works.

Her work is simultaneously intellectual, playful, fantastic, tangible and heartbreaking. This is no easy feat for any author to pull off. Because authors like Ducornet challenge the often stilted rules of fiction, they will never find the mass audience that the latest airport paperback boasts. Despite a smaller audience, the work itself is critically important. Ducornet's books push the boundaries of readers' imaginations in ways that no conventional work ever will.

Six of Ducornet's works are in publication through Dalkey Archive Press, housed at UHV. Dalkey is dedicated to preserving the best contemporary fiction of the world by keeping it in print and available to readers now. It is important work.

The last 75 years or so of fiction are the hardest to study for a contemporary literature scholar because so many titles have gone out of print. Many very important titles, often printed by now defunct small presses, never made the transition to e-book and are therefore only in the hands of a few collectors, used bookstores and libraries around the country. Time and the transition to digital have sometimes made copyrights hard to trace, and for many forgotten gems, no reprint is forthcoming. Thanks to Dalkey, though, readers will continue to have access to many of Ducornet's groundbreaking works.

Ducornet continues to release new works of fiction and collections of essays, as well as continuing her work as a painter and illustrator. Her latest novel, "Netsuke," was called "startling, elegant and perfectly formed" when it was released. Her new novel, "Brightfellow," is scheduled for release later this year.

Ducornet will give a free public reading at noon Thursday in Alcorn Auditorium inside UHV University West, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St.

Jeffrey Sartain is the managing editor of the American Book Review and an assistant professor of English at UHV. He may be contacted at SartainJ@uhv.edu.


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