Black Wine

Posted by : atcampbell | On : August 18, 1998

Black Wine by Candas Jane Dorsey

Eight people (six women and two men) showed up at Adventures in Crime & Space to discuss Black Wine, a recent winner of the Tiptree Award. One of the attendees was a newcomer to our group, and two others were back for a second time. Black Wine is a surreal, complex novel with several interweaving plot threads featuring female protagonists. The story explores the relationship between a language and those who use it, alternate family structures, alternate sexuality, slavery, mental illness, and an evil grandmother. It is difficult (and probably meaningless) to classify the genre of the book as SF or fantasy since neither technology nor magic is used much, and the setting of the tale is described sketchily.

We all found Dorsey’s prose readable and were able to finish the book. We appreciated the author’s willingness to tackle new subject matter and use an ambitious storytelling style. The development of power relationships within the society was interesting. We felt that the scenes of graphic sex were integral to the story. The storytelling structure was an interesting literary experiment in the postmodern tradition. We liked the surreal atmosphere.

However, negative comments outweighed the positive. One person who’d been turned off by the book’s scenes of disturbing sexual cruelty said “the contents of this book should have been discussed with the author’s therapist, not her editor.” Many disliked the unusual story structure, which we called a “failed literary experiment” and a “washing machine effect.” Several in the group wanted to sell their copies of the book back to Willie (fortunately for him, Willie was out sick that day).

While we felt this book was not a success, we feel that Dorsey shows a lot of promise. Most of us were glad that we’d read the book.

— A. T. Campbell, III