I hesitated to read Available Dark by Elizabeth Hand when the review I saw started out by comparing the main character to Lisbeth Salander. I like Lisbeth just fine, and I’ve read other books that had similar reviews, but how many renditions of a character does one really want to read? However, I am so glad I followed through with this book.
Cassandra Neary might have a passing resemblance to that tattooed anti-heroine, but to me she’s kind of like the more authentic, slightly more grounded aunt. Cass is messed up — no doubt at all about that — but it’s not entirely her defining quality. Whereas Lisbeth seemed almost incapable of leading any “normal” life — social, physical, personal — due to her traumatic past and consequent defenses, Cass is just sort of a wreck that still manages to have some acquaintances, keep in touch with family, do some work, have talent and passions. So, yeah, she lives on alcohol and a wide array of pills, but it’s just sort of who she is. She doesn’t feel absolutely out of control because of it, she’s not overwhelmingly anti-social (although she can be selfish and behave badly), she’s managed to not destroy herself entirely…she’s just been down and out for a really long time, and she gets by that way. Lisbeth was alien (and at times, alienating) to me as a reader, but Cass feels real and familiar, like a ne’er-do-well relative, or that aged hipster downtown who used to do something cool but seems to have lost their way. I like her. I want her to do well.
Cass is a one-hit photographer, known for a years-old book called ‘Dead Girls.’ She lives in a squalid little dump in NYC, drinking and drugging to maintain, dulling her senses, catching a little work here and there. She gets a call from an art collector who wants her to authenticate some photographs that are definitely not for public consumption, and off she goes to Finland to make some fast money. Of course, things go wrong, very wrong. To say that people get killed is an understatement, and there’s no real hero in this story that saves the day. But — Cass perseveres out of some sense self-preservation and of finishing what she set out to do, and along the way finds that some part of her isn’t as dead as she thought it was.
Three other cool things about this book, besides Cass? Iceland. Norse mythology. Black metal. I know, those are all pretty particular niche subjects, and they’re all a bit dark, but that shouldn’t stop you from reading this book (I’m not exactly a metal fan either, you know). It’s subject is a little esoteric by nature, but that really makes it all the more interesting–at least for me. If you’re intrigued by foreign locales, old beliefs and outsider culture, this book has a lot to keep you reading.