Review by Lisa Holden
‘The mezzo-soprana Lucky Lavaggio prepares to fly in planes across time zones on the Equinox into Autumn. She will be taking her scrying mirror to see what it says about the future. Only that ritual from the Dysmorphic’s Grimoire will tell her what she desperately wants to know: what she actually looks like, and what that means to her livelihood.’
Tantra Bensko’s latest novel, Equinox Mirror, released in 2014 by ELJ Publications, is transcendent, surreal and enthralling. Suffering from Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, Lucky lives in a house uncannily similar to her childhood doll house; a house full of borders and boarders where rats scrabble within walls and hair demons slug drain cleaner. A house which, ‘If we cut away a wall… would look like a child’s dollhouse imagining itself as real’. Bensko reels us into Lucky’s Wonderland where perceptions of the body, the sizes of objects and the sense of time are distorted. Vision, hearing – every sense can be affected, and Lucky has `visions of other people at a distance, other directions she could have gone, quantum stories that each molecule dreams.’ In this house more labyrinth than dwelling, where time is fluid and Lucky’s potential lives and selves flicker in and out of focus, the rooms are populated by mirrors that reveal a smaller, bigger, older or younger Lucky depending on the speed with which the mirror’s liquid moves. And certain mirrors reveal a Lucky so titanic that, like Alice, she threatens to burst the confines of the room. But Lucky can’t discern her true appearance, ‘almost as if she doesn’t exist, but is just poorly imagined.’
Lucky’s body dysmorphia begins when she is thirteen, when her Mirror becomes a magical object, after her father makes oblique comments on her weight. ‘”The lucidity of any mirror’s scrying potential depends on the liquidity of the age of the mirror dripping faster here, and there, twisted with timeless ancient anorexic magic.” – Dysmorphic Grimoire.’
What’s on the other side of the Equinox Mirror?
‘She knows someone is there. And he is named Lucky Lavaggio as well. She wants to know why.’ Lucky flips in and out of male and female-ness as smoothly as she telescopes in size and wavers between ages. Is she the imaginings of her adolescent self, of her mother? Is she Boy-Lucky fighting the void? Is she the void itself?
Meanwhile, Lucky suffers a fall that raises her Kundalini energy but sends it awry ‘making her go off’. And ‘she has been reborn into a new version, aggressive, but spread out across time and space, with no boundaries, aware of herself beating out of the moment.’ The new Lucky plunges into a fresh awareness, alive to the male version of herself battling the void. And here again, the prose dazzles and hums: ‘She was her mother, her father, DNA itself, spiralling throughout the galaxy, the thrust of life-force, in a hurry, without time to much about with frustrating tenants in a bordering house and be tolerant and polite. She became the flames and the ashes.’
And in this continuum, precipitated by her prematurely risen Kundalini, Lucky senses her mother’s doubts about getting pregnant, about not wanting to have a daughter who might be as fat as she supposedly is. To have a daughter – what kind of a life would she have? To be a woman and be cheated on by her husband? To have no other future than to be cast aside in old age? Lucky copes by ‘being an opera singer as a way to excuse her weight’. And calls back to her mother, across the gulf of time, cries out to her that life is worth living, ‘It was worth being born.’
The narrative skitters back and forth in a loose-meshed fabric that weaves us closer into the loss and craziness of Lucky’s experience. Overpowered by a sense of everything happening at once, she tries to imagine what life is to other people, ‘moment by moment, trapped in those lives. She wants to be the space in between them, empty.’
Lucky hangs the house with enchanted miniature scrying mirrors, and spies on her boarders. ‘She can’t glimpse her tenants’ lives quite as well through the tiny scrying mirrors if the folks are out of the house. They’ve been throwing her off the trace by being gone so much lately. Why can’t they just stay home and talk to her, eating nice meals together, good friends, with warm laughter, and chili peppers lining the walls red and cheery? She consults the Mirror, after searching at length through the engraved pages of the Dysmorphic’s Grimmoire, in order to see her tenants. She has sewn tiny round mirrors on the undersides of their clothes for just this purpose, over the weekend. This is her first experiment with that magical ritual. She knew they would take off just when she had the most time in the day to socialize.’
Lucky can’t help thinking of love. ‘Love has demons living in its hair.’ She yearns and aches for love, spurned by her driver/lover who’s become infatuated with her surreally-toothed housekeeper, Lucky is driven to desperation. Her lover, who cheated on her with her housekeeper, ‘doesn’t bed her any more. That man now only comes to drive her places because she pays him to. He comes to visit her surreal housekeeper for free.’ For want of human company, she locks away a woman in her oubliette, feeding her on crackers and dictionaries: ‘She [Lucky]would never be alone again. There would always be gratitude and compassion available.’ In her derangement, Lucky clings to love, swooning in the presence of her ex-lover. ‘She sits in the car unable to speak, choking on the idea of words, of “I” and “Your”. They seem like the same thing to her, as they always do when her Kundalini shoots off and she goes flying into the sky, riding it, blasting off so far no one can see her, and no one cares.’
Setting out on her Equinox journey, Lucky is driven to the airport by her chauffeur and one-time lover and longs to manufacture a future with him in it. She boards the plane, she’s always enjoyed flying her toy plane and ‘dreams that all of her life since being a little girl playing with the plane and the troll are entirely the imagination of her little girl self.’ Arriving at her first stop-off, she sees herself in the Mirror, held up for her by the man she’s paid. ‘She looks in the Mirror and sticks out her breasts, and pulls them up, to lengthen her tummy. She nods. OK.’ She boards the next flight and in the darkness as the plane takes off, knows that she’s just as her mother imagined her, and must touch herself to be convinced of her own existence. This leg of her journey takes Lucky closer towards autumn and this time, stepping out onto the desert floor and regarding herself in the Mirror, what she sees is a withered creature and ‘decides than and there she will bleed red against the white desert… She could shatter the Mirror over herself, tiny pieces all reflecting differently, her future, her beautiful past.’ She wanders into the desert and wedges the Mirror into the sand where it casts the sun’s intensity back at her thousand-fold; her skin scorches and bubbles. ‘Death by Mirror. Perfect.’ And in the desert, scorched by the eye of the Mirror ‘Her mystery is solved. She feels the Void approaching her, as it did in her flashes of herself as the male version she could have become, an even more temporary probability.’
Lucky’s being and not-being, Boy-Lucky and Girl-Lucky, the dollhouse with its teeny spying mirrors and hairballs and Andrew the Troll and Dungeonella, linger in our minds long after the final page. The lyrically patterned prose and spiralling narrative forever pull us back to the liquid silver of the Mirror where time slows or hastens.
About the reviewer:
Lisa Holden is an artist, writer and translator based in Amsterdam. Her artwork has been featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions in London, Amsterdam, New York, Miami and Oslo and is represented in various private and public collections. For several years, she was the in-house book reviewer of Eyemazing, an independently-owned fine art photography magazine.