234 pgs/ $14
Bygone pop culture images affect us in curious ways. Things like Scooby Doo episodes, fifties educational hygiene films, and bad girls in trouble movies, they were shallowly designed for surface appeal and quick consumption. However, these images were part of a shared experience and became imbued with the force of that, as well as whatever personal electricity they managed to pick up along the way. As such, I would suggest that they are like magic sigils, almost shorthand forms that can manipulate forces in us that we do not fully understand.
You might laugh at the ideas I suggest in the paragraph above, but I’m betting that Luke Geddes would not. Judging from I am a Magical Teenage Princess, I think Geddes knows well the energy locked inside icons such as Betty Page, Papa Smurf, and beach blanket films. After all, he makes such excellent use of such as base materials for the stories in this collection.
For instance, consider the story “Betty and Veronica.” Given what I’ve already said, I think you know what Betty and Veronica we are talking about. Explanation is unneeded. To the contrary, floodgates of response inside you have likely already swung open. But, to continue, Betty slaves over sewing a dress in order to dress identically to Veronica at the school dance and antagonize her. Subsequently:
Betty shakes free and lets Veronica chase her out into the halls and into the girls’ restroom. Once inside, Veronica checks under the stalls to make sure they’re alone and Betty locks the door.
They kiss. Like always, it’s different than with boys: wetter and softer, almost- like marshmallows soaked in hot chocolate. Where a few minutes ago Veronica pulled at Betty’s hair, now she runs her fingertips along a loose strand. Betty, suddenly ravenous, clenches Veronica’s hips and leads her to the sink. Veronica sits on the porcelain edge, letting her high heels drop off her feet. Betty draws her hands up Veronica’s thighs while outside the boys holler and pound on the door.
One thing that should be evident from this passage is that Geddes is not just making cheap use of our nostalgia by way of these cherished characters. This isn’t just simple parody or parade, but rather a starting point for serious emotional exploration. Geddes isn’t just satisfying a tawdry underground comic fantasy that Betty and Veronica are more into each other than Archie and Reggie; he actually moves these two-dimensional cartoons into the multi-faceted experience of the real human world: desires and pain beyond the original formula.
Nor are the Archie comics the only mass-market material explored by Geddes. From cheesy sci-fi films to Elvis, from superheroes to department store displays, Geddes makes use of a wide variety of base materials in exploring a multiplicity of different themes. All seem to be fertile ground.
Just consider the following portion from the opening of “The Modern Stone Age” as an example:
At first they walked the earth with nothing. Their hands clasped no tools, their bloodied knuckles dragged along the treacherous terrain. They dwelled in caves and slept, ate, and mated in these dark, stone wombs, emerging from their maws naked like newborns each morning to scavenge for food…When a male identified a female with whom he desired to mate, he took that female forcefully. And when that female already belonged to another male, on the ground that he’d grabbed her wrist in his furry palm first, he sent a heavy, flat stone- the first tool-into the other male’s skull.
But then came the sharp point of a stone dagger, succeeded shortly by the spear…Nourished in body and mind by the abundance of meat these inventions afforded, they fashioned the first wheel, and with this the most advanced specimens eventually migrated far away from their unwelcoming environs, leaving behind the soft-willed and atavistic Savages, whose hammer-browed visages hid sodden brains incapable of speech or innovation, whose clumsy hands could scarcely wield fists let alone torches and spears….
Meanwhile, the migrated few ushered in a glorious new epoch. They settled in the flatlands and constructed new contraptions of unnatural complexity and novelty. Now the barren, threatening homeland they had known was but a distant memory as the men steered their wood-and-stone cars along the paved roads of suburban Bedrock and the women vacuumed the floors of their luxurious ranch houses with wheeled baby wooly mammoths.
That’s right, as I’m sure you’ve realized already, even The Flintstones find themselves under Geddes’ curious microscope. Of course, this is not Hanna–Barbera’s Fred and Wilma.
Admittedly, I did enjoy some stories from I am a Magical Teenage Princess more than others. However, I was still impressed to some degree by all of them. I found this development of story from the junkyards of past media as intriguing as I found it creative. These icons have always had a certain inherent capacity to instantly entertain, but Geddes finds ways for them to also move. The result is something that I can only describe as delightful.
David S. Atkinson received his MFA from the University of Nebraska. His writing appears in Grey Sparrow Journal, Interrobang?! Magazine, Atticus Review, and others. His novel in short story form, Bones Buried in the Dirt, will be published in March 2013 by River Otter Press. His writing website is http://davidsatkinsonwriting.com/ and he spends his non-literary time working as a patent attorney in Denver.