Core : A Romance

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2005-05-01
  • Publisher: Hawthorne Books
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This intense and compact novel crackles with obsession, betrayal, and madness, and is an Oregon Book Award Finalist for fiction 2005. As the narrator becomes fixated on his best friend’s girlfriend his precarious hold on sanity rapidly deteriorates into delusion and violence. This story can be read as the classic myth of Hades and Persephone (Core) rewritten for a twenty-first century audience as well as a dark, foreboding tale of unrequited love and loneliness. Alonso skillfully uses language to imitate memory and psychosis putting the reader squarely inside the narrator’s head. In addition, deliberate misuse of standard punctuation blurs the distinction between the narrator’s internal and external worlds. A sense of alienation and Faulknerian grotesquerie permeate this landscape where desire is borne in the bloom of a daffodil and sanity lies toppled like an applecart in the mud.

Author Biography

KASSTEN ALONSO was born in Seattle, Washington. He currently lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and daughter. Core is his first published novel.



SHADOWS RUN FROM HUZZAH AND SICKLE. Shadows cower in the barn. Reapers tie sheaves in the shapes of rude maidens. Dogs crouch barking at the last stand of corn. Awry. Amiss. Awake.
He sat up in the tub gasping. Water and snot sputtered from his mouth. Briars thrust up under his ribs He coughed and coughed his Newborn throat tight as a pin. Muddy bathwater slapped the worn enamel. Spilled applause upon the floor. He fell back against the tub. He bared his teeth his breath sawed at the yellow bulb the cracked ceiling Jesus Christ.
With his toe he wedged the stopper from the drain. The drain gulped once. He rubbed stars in his eyes. He ran his hands through his hair. Someone had been in the tub with him. A body had curled its soft belly around him. Pondweeds Whispers brushed his ear. The girl. She had danced in the spent cornfield, had drawn him from the safety of the bonfire. She had pulled him deeper into the bath with her softness, her whispers, daffodil.
The breath whistled in and out him. He rolled himself over the lip of the tub. Water scattered Coins across the floor. On his knees and hands on the unraveled mat his fingers and wrists slick with mud. The shadows bound in sheaves. Shadows Raincharms cast to the spring. And who would cut the navel string?
He grabbed the tub and pushed himself to his feet. He turned toward the mirror. The face in there. The face watched him. Bloodless and bloated. Purple shadows ringed the eyes. Plaster in the hair drenched always. He bent over the sink he turned the hot water tap. Water spit brown from the spigot. The water cleared. He rubbed his palms under the stream.
You got to be there tonight man, Cam said. Fuck all the lame ass excuses about your work. Take the night off. Drink a few. Fucking enjoy yourself for once in your life would you?
Tendrils of mud spun down the drain. Water down the dark open mouth. How he had almost drowned again. Beneath ripple and rise, among whispers and softness, drowning.
I’ll be there, he said.
POLISHED BRASS AND STAINED WOOD, rafters stuffed with leaves. Ceiling hung with crepe paper pumpkins, black cats, and witch hats. Owls and bats. The floor sodden and scuffed from years of boot heels. He shook the rain from his hair. A hand unfolded before him. He fumbled in his pocket. He lay some bills in the open palm. The hand disappeared. Back into the dark dim swirl down the drain.
Onstage Cam wrung his guitar and shouted obscene cantations. Cam in frilly laced shirt and black trousers, red kerchief tied around his head. Cam bobbed his head Cam tripped in place Cam stamped and stomped the polished stage. Cam’s face damp and blue in the spotlight. Cam’s eyes lamps of white.
The girl sat against the bar. He made his way toward her. Stepped over legs, pushed past chairs and tables set with jack o’lanterns, squeezed between vampires and ghouls, the air dizzy with sweat and smoke and the rot of beer, music.
Made it to another show huh? the girl shouted.
Yeah, this place is packed, he shouted back.
Haven’t missed much. She sat on two stools. She slid over.
Thanks, he shouted.
When you’re with the band you’re entitled to a few extras. The girl wore a leather jacket and kilt and black stockings. A floppy black velvet hat, the brim turned up. Gold hoops dangled from her ears. Hers was a face he could draw easy. What she must look like without her glasses.
I’m glad I’m not the only one who didn’t wear a costume, he said. You look nice.
And you’re all wet, she said and laughed. She raised her beer to her lips. Her scent drifted amid the smoke and damp. Daffodils. She had smuggled Spring into Autumn using her throat, the spots behind her ears.
Get you something? the bartender said behind them.
He turned. Bartender in Little John jerkin and soot blacked face. Skeleton hung over the bar. His eyes scanned the labels on the bottles on the wall. Could I have an apple brandy? he said.
The bartender nodded great bristly beard and turned away.
What’d you order? the girl laughed. Apple brandy? Hm. Interesting.
He laughed. Yeah, well. I like to drink it when it’s wet and cold out.
Bartender big beard pushed a snifter across the bar. Two-fifty said Bartender big beard. Big hand scooped up bills and turned away.
He raised the snifter to his mouth. Sweet tingle from his tongue up the back of his throat to the middle of his head. He licked his lips. His face slipped to and fro in the amber pool. What had his face looked like while he dreamt under the water? And after, red and furious for air?
Is it good? she said.
He shrugged and smiled. I don’t know, he said. This stuff’s a little mediciny, but it’s okay.
Another extra I get as band moll is I can taste anyone’s drink I want, the girl said. She took the snifter from his hand. Her fingernails were bitten rough. She raised the snifter to her mouth. She kissed the lip and sipped. Mm, she said. Stuff burns my nose. Sweet though.
You should try what I have at home, he said. I make that stuff with apples from this orchard near my place.
The girl handed him the snifter. Cameron and me’ll have to come try some sometime, the girl said. He wanted to say Or you could just come yourself but she whistled loud as the music tumbled to a stop. The bar bedecked in shouts and applause. He raised the snifter to his lips. Brandy rolled across the roof of his mouth. The sweetness seeped beneath his tongue. And sheaves tied in the shapes of maidens. Sickles tossed at plaited stalks. The way she had swayed among the dead corn. The way the firelight had caressed her thighs.
You know, she said, Cameron must think pretty highly of you. I mean he wanted you to show tonight most of all. Besides me that is.
He smiled into the glass. Ah. Cam just worries I don’t get out much, he said. She laughed she slipped her arm through his. Her throat, scent. That spot where the artery danced, the stars drifted. He wanted to press his mouth to that spot. He wanted to taste the skin and prove she was made of daffodils.
Beyond the walls and windows rain. The music sawed and bumped. Cam shook and spun on stage. Cam sank to his knees and hung his head Cam sang how his love was dead, baritone cracked in despair and loss, to plead and demand and need and to want. The tearful mourner in the funeral dance. The loud lament of the disconsolate lover. But Cam had been alone with her. Cam knew she was made of flowers.
Would you look at those fucking sluts up there, the girl said. I mean even though everyone knows Cameron’s my boyfriend they’d all still go to bed with him. What a bunch of shit.
Girls crowded before the stage. One girl in devil’s horns waved a scrap of paper at Cam.
He swilled the brandy in his glass. He cleared his throat. He said, The guys really drew a crowd tonight, huh?
She rolled her eyes and shrugged. They’re not an audience, they’re extras, she said. Cameron’s only playing for one person.
You? he said.
Ha, she said. She raised her glass to her mouth. Don’t look now but the guy in the corner over there the one in the suede jacket and oh so cool shades.
He looked.
Record producer, she said.
Wow, he said. Is he going to produce Cam’s album?
Guy’d be an idiot not to I mean they had a piece on Cameron in Jukebox last week. There was one on the band the week before that but everyone knows Cameron’s the reason the whole thing’s catching on. It’s like without him Pluto’s Dog’d be out in the fucking garage playing high school proms and frat parties and shit but instead he’s got these capitalist pig types after him trying to catch the next wave. Her hand trembled as she sipped her beer. She said, Having all those sluts up there drooling over him is just part of the scene you know.
Oh yeah, he said, It’s nothing more than that. Don’t worry about it. Take it from somebody who’s known Cam a long time.
I’m not worried, the girl said. Love can just get kind of strange and irritating sometimes.
He drank the last of his brandy. He held up the empty snifter. He slid bills across the bar he pointed at her glass. Big Beard swept up bills, away. Cam strummed fever from his guitar. Cam sang from his place in the stars. Cam shimmied and Cam laughed. And the world.
So I see Michelangelo was hard at work, she said.
Her knee against his thigh. He shifted on his stool. What’s that?
She nodded at his hands. Plaster caught beneath his nails. Plaster ground into his knuckles. Jesus you got the shit all in your hair too, she said. You sleep in this stuff or what? She brushed her fingers at his hair. She combed the hair back off his head. He shivered how she touched him.
How did you get this scar? she said.
He smiled. Shrugged. Well. Uh. I guess I fell out of a tree just right.
She laughed and slipped her arm through his arm. Her smell caught in his throat. He a drunk herdsman stunned at the body askew on the threshing floor. Stunned by the fury of the flail dance. By the way she’d swayed under the black sky, belly and thighs brushed by whispering cornstalks. Her mouth open and filled with stars.
So have you ever worked with a model? the girl said.

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