Pairing: I'm From Electric Peak & The Gods Are Dead


The Gods Are Dead by Joanna C. Valente (Deadly Chaps 2015)

I'm From Electric Peak by Bud Smith (Artistically Declined Press* 2016)

I got The Gods Are Dead and I'm From Electric Peak at the same time, at the Flapperhouse #9/ Voyager Record Pre-Launch Countdown event at Pacific Standard in late March. Joanna C. Valente read that night and Bud Smith was in the audience. I read both books on the plane that took me to LA and AWP a few days later. That's a long time ago now, but the combination has been on my mind ever since. I've talked about types of pairings before. I thought that pairing these two books would be based on chance proximity, but it turns out that they were related on much deeper level.

Joanna C. Valente's The Gods Are Dead matches each of the tarot deck's 22 Major Arcana with an ekphrastic poem. Take the Lovers, shown here. Illustrated by Ted Chevalier, the Lovers in The Gods Are Dead are a road-trip movie at the end of the first act. Everything here is in high contrast. The only fine lines are behind them. On either side of the highway there are trees, a pairing everyone should be familiar with. A city lies ahead, and they're driving straight to it. The sun is either rising or beginning to set. The back end of the car looks out at us, open-lipped.

The two people in this car are obviously Kody and Teal Cartwheels from Bud Smith's novella I'm From Electric Peak.

Bud Smith opens up his book with two gunshot murders and a kidnapping, and after that the plot takes to the road, always attempting violence. Like in The Lovers, there are really three main characters here, the car being the third. The title of Valente's poem acknowledges this role too: "The Chariot Drives the Lovers into Hell's Kitchen."

"There is no returning

to the garden where she & him grew

fled home to practice absence

unlearn a happy childhood

plucked from paradise's soil

him & she take driving lessons

for a new country's road

life will have to be sacrificed."

Sacrifice reminds me of another interpretation of this trump, the version in the Golden Dawn deck by Robert Wang, where the lovers are Perseus and Andromeda tied to a rock with Ketos the sea monster steadily approaching. In I'm From Electric Peak Kody dives in to save Teal from her fate—getting shipped off to Italy by her parents—a sacrifice not all that different than Andromeda being chained to that rock for high tide. Someone is going to get hurt.

This card/poem from The Gods Are Dead is reading I'm From Electric Peak in miniature. And I'm From Electric Peak really tells its story the way a tarot reading unfolds. Teal and Kody meet lots of strange characters along the way, whose appearances and actions always signify more than what they seem: a security guard at Graceland, a mystic tour guide at the Grand Canyon who's already been dead, some sadistic rancher out West with a too-perfect mustache.

I enjoyed both of these books for the same reason they work well together: they suggest more than themselves. They both let you color in the pictures on your own, but they're pretty specific about what kind of paint they want you to use. They're built for misreading, and I don't want to read any other way than that.

*I was pretty surprised to find out that just few hours ago, while I was in the middle of writing this post, Artistically Declined announced it was closing down. BUT they promise to open back up in the fall, so we'll see, I hope so.

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